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The fight against the COVID pandemic has involved massive government support programs around the world. In Canada, CERB and CESB payments are being dispersed to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic.
According to the Government of Canada, more than $2.94 billion in CESB payments have been made to over 708,000 students as of October. The government also reported over 27,500,000 CERB applications and over $81.64 billion disbursed as of October 9th. Unfortunately, this has also led to new scams surrounding financial fraud and COVID.
Amid the desperate times, many Canadians are facing, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) is warning against fraud attempts targeted at applicants and recipients.
Fraudsters are executing a variety of scams surrounding CERB and CESB payments and repayments. Many of these scams start with a text or email appearing to be from a financial institution asking for personal information.
One of the most common scams is one where a third-party company offers to help you apply for CERB payments. Once they have your personal information, they then render you the victim of identity theft.
Many of the COVID-19 scams that have been discovered follow a similar process. Unsolicited calls, emails, and texts are being sent out offering or requesting action or money for:
- Medical advice
- Financial aid
- Government assistance
In some cases, the scam artists will claim to be representing a charity. They may pressure respondents into donating money, but many of these so-called ‘charities’ are unregistered. Worse yet, scam artists are known to use moral guilt and threats to pressure victims into “donations”.
The Government of Canada has noted that some people are buying low-quality pharmaceutical products and reselling them for a profit. In other cases, they’re buying expensive but expired products and also selling them for a profit.
In either of these cases, the items you’re purchasing are potentially dangerous.
Many scammers are also trying their luck at taking advantage of the new hype surrounding CERB and CESB repayments. They are sending unsolicited emails, calls, and texts insisting that their targets owe the government money for payments they’ve taken.
What You Can Do
First, it’s important to remember to guard your information. Financial institutions will never ask you via text or email for personal information or details such as:
- Login usernames and passwords
- Account information
- Credit/debit card information
If you weren’t the one who initiated contact with the “financial institution” emailing you, you really can’t be sure who you’re dealing with. It’s your responsibility to protect your identity and your financial information.
The Scam Artist’s Methods
Scam artists work with a few key tools to make money:
- Your fear
- Your uncertainty
You need to be vigilant to avoid becoming a victim. You don’t need to be uneducated or emotionally weak to fall for a scam. Scam artists are creative and many know how to feign the appearance of a respectable or charitable individual. That’s why you should resist anyone’s attempts to pressure you into payments or donations. Before you donate your money, you can make sure the charity is registered in Canada.
Be very wary of third parties that offer assistance applying for CERB or CESB benefits. Unfortunately, you may have to take care that criminals don’t use your CERB login information to receive payments.
When it comes to requests to resend your CERB or CESB payments, remember that there are official ways to make repayments. You can repay through your CRA My Account or the assigned toll-free phone lines. Any other repayment avenue is most likely a part of a scam. Don’t share your financial information with stranger people or institutions that contact you.
Right now most scam artists are posing as:
- Financial service companies
- Cleaning and heating companies
- Local electricity/hydro companies
- The CDCP or the WHO
- Public Health Agency of Canada representatives
- Financial advisors
- Charity representatives, such as the Red Cross
- Private companies offering COVID-19 tests
Scam artists will use a mix of intimidation and manipulation to get your personal information. In some cases, they’ll even use false threats to demand you send them money directly.
Trusted Public Resources
The only reliable antidote to fear, uncertainty, and misinformation are reliable sources. You can refer to the resources provided by the Government of Canada for health and financial information. By keeping informed and aware you will be able to avoid financial fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To report a Covid-19 financial fraud, call toll-free 1-888-495-8501 anytime from Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 4:45 pm (Eastern time). Fraud reporting can also be done online through the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.