Phone users warned of COVID-19 cyber scams

Be wary of offers of medical supplies, cleaning products or food

With Ottawa offering up billions in aid to struggling Canadians, people are vulnerable to predatory cyber scammers via their smartphones, lawyers and the government warn.

“Sensing this combination of vulnerability and urgency among Canadians, cybercriminals have quickly devised scams intended to take advantage of Canadians looking for help,” said a briefing note from Regina-based lawyers Nathan Schissel and Jeremy Barber of law firm MLT Akins.

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They said Canadians began receiving text messages supposedly from the federal government saying a $1,375 relief payment had been sent to them.

The message provided a legitimate-looking URL and warned that ‘data rates may apply,’” the lawyers said.

What those who clicked found was a website looking like a legitimate government site asking for personal information – including banking information – required to accept the deposit.

By all accounts, the fake website was a convincing one and there is significant risk that those not alert to the dangers posed by malicious cybercriminals may fall victim to the scam,“ the lawyers said.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said as of Feb. 29, there had been 7,804 reports of fraud targeting 4,119 Canadians at a cost of $9.2 million.

The centre warned Canadians to be wary of an unsolicited offer via texts, emails or phone and to be suspicious of spoofed government, healthcare or research information.

People should be wary of communications requesting urgent action or payment and/or offering medical advice, financial relief or government assistance and compensation.

The centre has offered some tips for receiving such communications.

• If you didn't initiate contact, you don't know whom you're communicating to;

• Never respond or click on suspicious links and attachments;

• Never give out your personal or financial details;

• If you didn't initiate contact, you don't know who you're communicating to;

• Never respond or click on suspicious links and attachments;

• Never give out your personal or financial details;

• Don't be pressured into making donations;

• Verify independently that charities are registered;

• Be wary of high-priced or low-quality products purchased in bulk by consumers and resold for profit;

• Be wary of questionable offers, such as miracle cures, herbal remedies, vaccinations, faster testing; and

• Be wary of fake and deceptive online ads, including cleaning products, hand sanitizers and other items in high demand.

Schissel and Barber recommend verifying information sources.

“Fraudsters tend to rely on individuals they target, taking the path of least resistance and clicking on whatever links they are provided. For this reason, when receiving information via text message, email or any other means, it is important to verify that the information is coming from an official source,” they said.

When it comes to apparent requests from the government, they suggest not by following the link in a text message, but using Canada’s official URL or using a trusted search engine like Google to find official resources.

“Sometimes, especially in the email context, a fraudulent message will contain a link that looks exactly like an official URL,” they said. “This is possible because text in email, regardless of what it says, can be linked to any page on the Internet.”

They explained that an email may read “canada.ca”, but may actually direct to a fraudulent website. To combat that, the link’s text can be copied from the email and pasted into a web browser’s address bar. That will bypass the hidden link to the fraudulent website.

jhainsworth@glaciermedia.ca

@jhainswo
 

© Kamsack Times

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