Health officials, police warn of scams exploiting COVID-19 fears

A woman uses her computer keyboard to type while surfing the internet in North Vancouver on December, 19, 2012.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

WINNIPEG - Health officials and police are warning people about an email scam taking advantage of people worried about COVID-19 to steal money or sensitive information.

Winnipeg police have sent a warning about a scam in which a person gets an email saying the recipient has been contaminated by the novel coronavirus.

The email asks for credit card information to order a shipment of medication.

Manitoba chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, says public health would never ask for financial information in an email or over the phone.

The Canadian Red Cross also sent out a warning on the weekend against clicking any links in a text message claiming to be from the organization and offering masks.

The World Health Organization, Better Business Bureau and the Canadian Anti-Fraud centre have all shared warnings about possible scams related to the pandemic.

"At times like this we often see the best of people brought out," Roussin said in Winnipeg. "It also brings out the worst in some people. There have been multiple phishing scams that have been noted online."

The World Health Organization has said people are posing as its representatives and trying to get sensitive information or direct donations through emails, phone calls, text messages and even fax messages.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says on its website that other scams include private companies offering fast COVID-19 tests for a price — only hospitals can perform the test — or fraudsters urging people to invest in "hot new stocks" related to the illness.

The centre says people should get information from reliable sources such as the Public Health Agency of Canada. It also suggests researching charities that request money to see if they are fraudulent and being wary of anyone offering miracle cures or faster tests.

People should also approach unsolicited medical advisory emails with caution, especially if they have links or attachments.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2020.

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