Photo: The Canadian press
The new coronavirus has spawned an increase in online and telephone crime, targeting anxious Canadians who isolate themselves at home in front of their computers, experts say.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Center has received more than 100 recent complaints related to COVID-19, said Jeff Thomson, senior analyst at the RCMP.
The list includes fake ads for face masks, hand sanitizers or home virus test kits, charity fraud, extortion and so-called phishing scams, where fake emails are sent through this which appears to be a reputable agency.
“The Public Health Agency of Canada, the World Health Organization, federal agencies, the Canadian government, you name it, imitate anyone and everyone who is in authority in this area,” said Thomson.
Crime that plays out in the public’s fear is not uncommon, he said, noting that US law enforcement agencies started autonomous charity fraud units after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Toronto police charged a man with fraud last week after being told by the US Department of Homeland Security of an intercepted package, alleging that it contained 25 COVID-19 test kits.
Health-related products must be registered with Health Canada and there are no approved home test kits, said Thomson.
“Just like there are no approved vaccines, herbal remedies, or miracle cures, you know. You really have to go to your source to get this information. In the case of Canada, it is the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada.
The Better Business Bureau has warned that social isolation can make people more likely to be victims of crime.
Shawna-Kay Thomas of the Better Business Bureau in southern Alberta and eastern Kootenay said the criminals mimicked legitimate organizations during the pandemic.
In Alberta, they present themselves as health workers calling to tell people that they have tested positive for COVID-19 and asking for credit card information, she said.
The usual precautions apply, don’t answer a phone number you don’t know, don’t click on an attachment, and find out where you buy products.
There is no evidence that the overall crime rate has increased.
Vancouver police have reported a 10% drop in most crimes as pandemic restrictions increase. There has been a spike in crimes against commercial property, with empty offices and stores due to COVID-19.
Many retail and commercial operations have since placed plywood through their windows and doors.
Victoria police also reported an increase in break and enters into vacant downtown businesses.