Keeping Yourself Safe from COVID-19 Related FraudsPublished on June 18, 2020
As each of us continues to do our part to conquer the COVID-19 outbreak facing Ontario and the world, many individuals will be feeling vulnerable due to the physical and emotional toll that this crisis has placed on us all. For the most part, Ontarians have banded together to support one another, such as by shopping for vulnerable populations who are remaining at home or virtually checking in with those who are practicing physical distancing. Governments also continue to work together to support the health and wellbeing of all Ontarians and support all those struggling financially during this time. However, some individuals have decided to take advantage of this crisis to prey upon our community’s most vulnerable with fraud and misinformation.
During the best of times it is important for everyone to practice precautions when on the internet. Online scammers have become increasingly skilled at mimicking authentic content from governments and other trusted sources. With so much of our lives moved online in a matter of weeks, extra caution is necessary when navigating newly-created online systems.
When it comes to government agencies including Service Canada and Service Ontario, they will never contact you via text message, WhatsApp message or any other social media platforms with a link in order to claim benefits, including the recently-launched Canadian Emergency Response Benefit. Government agencies will also never demand immediate payment by methods such as Interact E-Transfer, prepaid credit cards and gift cards, or Bitcoin.
Scammers can also imitate other commonly trusted sources to take advantage of the current COVID-19 situation. Some examples of scams or fraudulent activity include:
• Selling fraudulent products that falsely claim to treat or prevent diseases such as COVID-19 (e.g. private testing for COVID-19, medications to treat or develop immunity to COVID-19, or items in your home such as duct cleaning or furnace filters to prevent the spread of COVID-19).
• Impersonating utility companies (e.g. hydro and natural gas) threatening to disconnect power for false non-payment. Most major utility companies have suspended disconnections during the current COVID-19 crisis.
• Impersonating health officials (e.g. Public Health Agency of Canada, World Health Organization, Centre for Disease Control) with fake information that you or someone in your community tested positive for COVID-19, including asking for personal information such as health card or credit card numbers to access information.
If you think that you’ve encountered contact your local police to report it. You may also contact Consumer Protection Ontario or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
When it comes to protecting yourself from frauds and scams online, whether COVID-19-related or otherwise, you can help protect yourself, your family, friends and neighbours by using a few key tips:
• Take strict measures to keep personal information confidential and never share details like credit card, bank account numbers, or any other payment information over the phone or text.
• Use caution when clicking on links sent to you via text when coming from unknown senders.
• Have conversations with friends and family who are more vulnerable and possibly most at risk to fraud, such as elderly adults or teens.
• Don't respond to text messages from numbers that are not complete cell phone numbers or without verifying who the sender is.
• Don't call a phone number texted to you from an unknown person.
• Use caution on free offers or notifications of winning a prize. If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
As a reminder, if you develop symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, fever, and breathing difficulties, call Telehealth at 1-866-797-0000 or contact Toronto Public Health 416-338-7600, service is available in multiple languages. If you need emergency medical attention you should call 911 and mention any symptoms.
You no longer need a referral to go to any of the assessment centres. If you are worried you may have COVID-19, or have been exposed to the virus, get tested. Information about the assessment centres is now easily accessible on Ontario.ca/coronavirus.
My constituency office staff and I are available to answer any questions you may have by phone at 416- 259-2249 or online at christinehogarthmpp.ca.
Christine Hogarth, MPP