Better Business Bureau is warning consumers of online scams as Prince Rupert victims have been reported. Instance of on-line fraud and phishing have increased since the start of COVID-19. (Photo supplied by Better Business Bureau)

Prince Rupert victims of online scams

BBB is warning consumers of increased online fraud since COVID-19

Prince Rupert is among the areas which have reported an increase in online fraud victims since COVID-19 pandemic has hit. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has issued a warning and some pointers for protection as online scammers continue to target Canadians who are working from home and spending more time on line.

“In the last two months, Better Business Bureau (BBB) saw a five per cent increase in reports about COVID-19 scams, with almost 60 per cent of victims losing money. Victims are losing an average of almost $75 as well as personal and banking information through the submission of fake application forms,” BBB said, on May 7.

Almost 50 per cent of the COVID-19 scams reported were encountered on a website.

“Our investigations show that a majority of the websites were created in the last three months and are focused on selling items like masks, sanitizers, fake COVID-19 vaccines and cures,” BBB said.

Victims in Prince Rupert have fallen prey to online fraudsters, Karla Laird, manager for community and public relations for the BBB said, with the attempted online purchases of N95 masks. Mask were ordered in February and paid for, but as of May 2 had not arrived. The web site is no longer active and the victims have lost their money.

READ MORE: Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre phone lines closed

Discounted travel vacations, gym equipment, video streaming subscriptions and even pets are all part of online scams. Others were designed to impersonate government departments and legitimate businesses, luring in Canadians trying to apply for COVID-19 relief benefits and potential job opportunities.

Laird said the BBB has received reports from Prince Rupert about a CERB (Canada Emergency Relief Benefit) phishing scam, where victims were asked to click a link and enter personal banking information so deposits could be completed. Overall, people between the ages of 35 – 54 years have the highest exposure and susceptibility rates.

“Scammers are opportunists, and they continue to use the crisis as a way to fleece consumers out of hard-earned cash. It is unfortunate that they are even targeting those who would benefit from government relief programs,” Laird said. “Now more than ever, consumers need to double check every text message, email and website. With constant exposure to text-based communications, it is easy to let our guards down, but now is not the time.”

Canadians are also stumbling into COVID-19 scams on social media disguised as investment opportunities (pyramid schemes), business retailer profiles, home/apartment rentals, entertaining posts, as well as links and attachments in direct messages from people recently added as a new friend.

BBB offers these tips to help consumers avoid being victimized by COVID-19 scams:

“Only buy from reputable stores and websites. The best way to avoid getting scammed is to buy directly from a seller you know and trust. Check to see which businesses are open for service and read reviews from consumers.

Be sure the online store has working contact information. Before offering up your name, address, and credit card information, make sure the company is legitimate. A real street address (not a P.O. box), a working customer service number, and a positive BBB Business Profile are key places to start.

Educate yourself on the requirements for federal and provincial support. Visit the Government of Canada and/or the Government of British Columbia websites for the latest updates and process to claim assistance. Do not pay for ‘free’ financial aid. Remember, if you have to pay to claim it, then it is NOT free.

READ MORE: Grande trouble: BBB warns of bogus COVID-19 Starbucks gift card scam

Be wary of unsolicited text messages, emails, calls or messages via social media. Remember, government agencies do not communicate through these channels. Scammers will call you out the blue and impersonate the government by asking basic questions to see if you qualify for a grant. Eventually, they will ask for your banking information, saying they need to collect a one-time processing fee and directly deposit your money.

If something sounds suspicious, confirm it by calling the company directly or checking the company website. Contact the company or check their website to confirm job vacancies. Do not click on links or open attachments in an unexpected email – type the URL for the company into your browser or do a web search to find the right website.

When renting a property, avoid making payments to a landlord who you have never met in person. Avoid any unrealistic promotions, offers or rentals advertised well below market rates. This is a classic strategy to lure in rental scam victims. Do not settle for a virtual tour or video. Be especially wary if the alleged owner or property manager wants money through Western Union, MoneyGram or a gift card.”

K-J Millar | Journalist 
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