Pandemic Scams Being Sent by Text, Email

By Meaghan Gray, Toronto Police Service Published: 12:55 p.m. April 28, 2020
Updated: 3:36 p.m. April 28, 2020

Verify the source of a text or email before clicking on any links, police investigators warn.

A person at a computer
People working from home should be verify requests for login information before clicking on any links

Investigators are noticing a spike in scams that are targeting people working from home, collecting benefits and using media streaming services.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in phishing scams, both email and text messaging aimed at stealing users credentials and banking information,” says Intelligence Services Cyber Operations D/Sgt. John Menard. “Because it’s COVID-related we’re seeing a lot of fake remote login access for businesses, employment insurance payment transfers.

Over the last several weeks, investigators with the Toronto Police Service have noted an increase in online scams associated to COVID-19.

These include, Text messages requesting banking information for:

  • Processing government payments for Emergency Benefits or Canada Revenue Agency
  • Fines for leaving the house too many times in a day
  • Demands for immediate payment with threats of cancelled services (i.e. streaming sites)

Menard advises people to reach out to their financial institutions or telecommunications and streaming service companies directly if they are unsure about an email or text message they have received.

He notes that carefully examining the emails should give you clues that they are fake and that the police or government would never ask for payment in bitcoin or threaten arrest for not paying immediately.

Police are warning about fraudulent or corrupt links on topics such as:

  • “Delivery details” for those most likely to be using delivery services
  • “Special offers” for COVID-19-related products/services
D/Sgt. John Menard talks about how to protect yourself from pandemic-related fraud

Websites claiming sales of COVID-19 testing and health should also be considered fraudulent, including:

  • Sales of COVID-19-related products and services, such as testing kits, cleaning products or remedies
  • Information from “health officials”, requesting information and/or links to other sites

Investigators have also learned of various telephone or door-to-door scams including offers to shop for, and deliver, groceries – these often include a request for credit card information; as well as sales of COVID-19-related products and services.

With more people spending time at home, online, investigators are reminding the public to take the following steps to protect themselves:

  • Do not click on random links
  • Do not provide your personal information – including banking information
  • Do not install unknown applications, even if you’re asked to via email/text/etc.
  • Use two-factor authentication for online payments
  • Do not use links sent via email/text to access online accounts
  • Set up strong passwords for new or existing online accounts
  • Back up your work regularly and work offline, when possible
  • Use software to protect yourself from malware and viruses

You can contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre to report the phishing attempts or if you have been a victim to a fraud. 

Anyone who believes they may have been a victim of any fraud in Toronto is encouraged to report it  online contact police at 416-808-2222, Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477), online at 222tips.com, online on our Facebook Leave a Tip page, or text TOR and your message to CRIMES (274637). Download the free Crime Stoppers Mobile App on iTunes or Google Play.

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