Anti-Fraud centre warns against pandemic scams

By Gordon Lambie

In any time of crisis, there are opportunists ready to sweep in and take advantage of the vulnerabilities of anxious or uncertain people. The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.
According to The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) there were 766 reports of COVID-19 related fraud in the period between March 6 and May 1 of this year, with 188 victims having lost some $1.2 million in the process.
On its website, the CAFC warns of fraudsters posing as loan and financial service companies offering loans, debt consolidation and other financial assistance services; Cleaning or heating companies offering duct cleaning services or air filters to protect from COVID-19; Local and provincial hydro/electrical power companies ­threatening to disconnect your power for non-payment; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization offering fake lists for sale of COVID-19 infected people in your neighbourhood; the Public Health Agency of Canada giving false results saying you have been tested positive for COVID-19 or tricking you into confirming your health card and credit card numbers for a prescription; the Red Cross and other known charities offering free medical products (e.g. masks) for a donation; Government departments sending out coronavirus-themed phishing emails, tricking you into opening malicious attachments, or tricking you to reveal sensitive personal and financial details; Financial advisors pressuring people to invest in “hot” new stocks related to the disease or offering financial aid and/or loans to help you get through the shut downs; Door-to-door sales people selling household decontamination services; Private companies offering fast COVID-19 tests for sale when only health care providers can perform the tests and no other tests are genuine or guaranteed to provide accurate results, or selling fraudulent products that claim to treat or prevent the disease such as unapproved drugs that threaten public health and violate federal laws.
The organization warns, in particular, about legitimate-seeming organizations or government entities asking for personal information, reminding the public that no legitimate agency will ask for sensitive information over the phone or in an email.
The CAFC’s recommended course of action for anyone who has or suspects they have been a victim of fraud includes contacting the local police. The centre also has an online reporting system, but is operating with reduced resources at the moment.
Neither the Sherbrooke Police nor the Eastern Townships division of the Sûreté du Québec were able to give The Record precise figures on pandemic-related scams in the region, but both said that cybercrime has been on the rise in general in recent years. Samuel Ducharme of the Sherbrooke Police called it “the crime of the decade” when it comes to incidence and said that cases increase almost year after year.
Although he said that it is not related directly to the pandemic, Ducharme took the opportunity to flag a scam that is proving particularly problematic for adolescents and parents in the Sherbrooke area. Called “fraude de la guich” in French, the scam involves victims being approached online, often through Snapchat, with a kind of get-rich-quick scheme. The fraudsters ask for the baking information of the victim on the basis of making false deposits which can then be withdrawn before the bank checks, reassuring their victims with the assurance that they can just claim a stolen bank card and get their money back, and that they are doing nothing illiegal
Once the information is obtained, the fraudsters multiply the transactions and increase the agreed upon amounts significantly. They deny access to the victim’s account, and when the victim wants to withdraw or report, they threaten them with physical violence and claim they will be arrested for willingly taking part in the crime. The suspects will then use the information to open new accounts, apply for credit cards, or other identity theft fraud.
Adding insult to injury, baking institutions refuse to reimburse the victim upon discovery of the scam because of their active involvement in the fraudulent transactions, resulting in sometimes massive debts.
According to Ducharme, the scam mainly preys upon teens, but can often implicate parents or guardians because of the debt burden generated. The officer also said that very little progress has been made in cracking down on the scam locally because people are concerned about criminal accusations being leveled against them.
“We consider these youth to be victims,” he said, stressing the fact that victims of ‘fraude de la guich’ will not be prosecuted if they come forward. “We have to work together to stop this fraud.”
More information on the work of the CAFC, including a list of scams currently active in Canada and tips on what to do if you or someone you know has been a victim, is available at

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