COVID-19 Pandemic Brings Surge in Online Puppy Scams Warns Better Business Bureau

Isolated people during the COVID-19 pandemic are being targeted by scammers for online puppy scams. COVID-19 Scams have been making news since March 2020 and it seems like there is no end to what fraudsters can come up with to take advantage of other people. The Better Business Review over Mainland British Columbia is warning Canadians of the recent spike in the number of online puppy scam reports.

Warnings Issued

The warning was issued by Better Business Bureau after they’ve received increased reports from consumer assistance organizations across the country. The reports say that more fraudulent pet websites were discovered in April 2020 compared to the total from the entire first quarter of the year.

BBB Mainland B.C. spokeswoman Karla Laird says that scammers are exploiting would-be-pet-owner’s desires of finding a puppy to help them cope during these trying times. She further shared that scam victims from Victoria to Toronto and Halifax have been reporting getting duped by fraudsters while trying to buy a puppy online.

In response to the above, the Better Business Bureau shared tips on how to avoid getting victimized by online puppy scams. They are as follows:

  • Do not buy a pet without seeing the pet in person
  • Do not buy a pet from non-established sellers
  • Avoid sending money prior to seeing the pet in person
  • Avoid payment methods such as gift cards, Moneygram, or Western Union as they are commonly used by fraudsters who do not want to be traced

Sophisticated Pet Scams Online

The Bureau found out in an earlier study that those who engage in online puppy scams and other successful scams rely on sophisticated advertisements to lure unsuspecting consumers. The advertisements make it seem that there is a legitimate business behind the ads, as the ads are sponsored content and usually lead to a seemingly well-crafted website. Experts estimate that as much as 80% of the sponsored ads that are about pets are fraudulent, according to the BBB.

How to Spot Online Pet Scams

An example of a fake pet ad and website is a website targeting people who wants to buy a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. The website claims to be from Tulsa, Oklahoma and may seem legitimate at first glance, until one takes a deeper look. Legitimate sites will have an online history or footprint, with numerous links online and via social media as well as social media accounts that go back months if not years. If a website has only been active between February to May 2020, then it could be one of the fake websites specifically created to scam people while COVID-19 is around.

It is best to do a lot of research on an intended breed before adopting a dog, including pricing as well as specific breed illnesses. If a website is trying to sell a puppy too cheap or claims a 100% guarantee of no health issues; and interested to sell to whomever shows an interest, then the motives behind the sale may be less than ideal. Experts suggest looking up dogs in shelters as the pandemic caused quite a lot of healthy and purebred dogs to be surrendered. Such an adoption will be legitimate, there is no possibility of being scammed, and you get to meet your new dog in person.

Do you know someone who may have been a victim or was targeted for an online puppy scam? Our private investigation services can help uncover truths and verify if a website is legitimate or not. Contact us today and we’ll do our best to get our private investigators to work on your concern as soon as possible.

 

Deception in Financial Statements

In a recent case investigated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the senior executives of a publicly traded company were charged with fraud related to the financial statements of the company. The RCMP stated that the accused created an elaborate scheme of paper trails that exaggerated the financial position and the performance of the company in order to mislead investors, creditors and auditors. Revenues were overstated in successive quarters, false sales were recorded in the accounting records and high interest loans were not recorded.  The company eventually went into bankruptcy, at which point the deception was uncovered. Creditors and investors lost millions and employees suffered through unpaid wages.

Financial statement fraud is the deliberate misrepresentation of the financial condition of an enterprise. Its intent is to deceive financial statements users (e.g., shareholders, creditors, regulators). It has many forms and guises, but is perpetrated through intentional misstatements or omissions of amounts in financial statements. It occurs in large publicly traded companies. It occurs in small family-owned firms. CGAs should be aware of the red flags that may indicate the presence of financial statement fraud and then make the appropriate examination to determine if their concerns are warranted. It is often the small extra inquiry by an accounting professional that exposes the presence of financial statement fraud.

The extent of financial statement fraud varies but the techniques used to perpetrate it generally fall into the following categories:

  • fictitious revenues
  • fraudulent asset valuations
  • fraudulent timing differences
  • concealed liabilities and expenses
  • improper or fraudulent disclosures or omissions

Fictitious Revenues

Fictitious revenues are probably the most common form of financial statement fraud. In this scenario, false sales are recorded in the books and records of the company. Often, the offsetting entry will be to accounts receivable. However, there are also other methods of manipulating the revenue side of financial statements. Other techniques include the recording of consignment sales and sales with conditions, failing to record the return of goods sold, improper write-off of receivables, and non-recognition of sales discounts. All these techniques can have the effect of making revenues appear greater than they actually are.

Fraudulent Asset Valuations

Improper asset valuations can be used to manipulate financial statements to the point that they are misleading and fraudulent. This can be done in several ways. Often, an intentional violation in the application of the “Lower of Market or Cost Rule” has been done in order to manipulate the financial statements of an enterprise. Estimates of an asset’s residual value or useful life can also be manipulated. Other schemes to inflate current assets at the expense of long term assets can be undertaken in order to manipulate financial ratios.

Fraudulent Timing Differences

The misapplication of timing difference protocols in accounting can result in financial statements being manipulated. Essentially, timing differences can shift revenues from one reporting cycle to another. The same technique can be used to shift expenses. The result can be that expenses are either overstated or understated in a particular period. In the context of fraud, this technique allows the management of a company to manipulate earnings in order to hit predefined targets.

Concealed Liabilities and Expenses

Concealed liabilities and expenses can have significant impact on financial statements, because concealed amounts have a direct impact on the bottom line of a corporation. The pre-tax income is increased to the full amount by the expense that is not recorded. Concealing liabilities is often easier to do than inventing fictitious revenues, as the latter often requires the creation of false documentation such as false invoices or sales receipts. Concealing liabilities can be as simple as capitalizing an expenditure, rather than correctly placing the cost in the appropriate expense account. Another method is the understating of warranty costs for an enterprise. Failing to adequately disclose the true warranty expense for a business can be of benefit to corporate criminals who wish to manipulate financial statements.

Improper or Fraudulent Disclosures or Omissions

As a general rule, financial statements must contain all information to prevent a user of those financial statements from being misled. Notes to financial statements should contain narrative disclosures, supporting schedules, and any other information required to avoid misleading financial statement users. Improper or inadequate disclosure in financial statements can be any of the following:

  • accounting changes
  • liability omissions
  • management fraud
  • related party transaction
  • subsequent events

The degree of the lack of disclosure in any of these examples can amount to the fraudulent omission of a material fact that, in turn, makes the issuance of financial statements fraudulent.

The Defence Against Financial Statement Fraud

Financial statement fraud can be insidious and shrouded. It may have perpetrated for years in any particular business or organization without exposure. Often, when it is finally detected, it is too late; creditors, investors and shareholders have been victimized with no hope of recovery. How then, can we immunize ourselves from financial statement fraud?

The answer lies in a close examination of financial statements for any red flags that may emerge. Each of the types of financial statement fraud outlined in this article has its own red flag, but there are many common warning signs of financial statement fraud. (I recommend the Canadian edition of the Fraud Examiners’ Manual, published by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, for extensive reference.)

While I’ve grouped the examples into categories for the sake of simplicity, any one of these warning signs—sometimes alone, sometimes in combination with other signs—can be the key to the discovery of fraud.

Accounting and Statement Warning Signs

  • Negative cash flows while reporting positive earnings.
  • Rapid growth or unusual profitability.
  • Unusual and highly complex transactions, often close to year end.
  • Unusual changes in key financial ratios.
  • Unusual increases in gross margin.

Economic and Sector Warning Signs

  • Assets, liabilities and expenses based on significant estimates.
  • Declines in customer demand.
  • Increasing business failures in the sector.
  • Significant bank accounts or operations in tax haven jurisdictions.
  • Significant related-party transactions.
  • Rapid growth or unusual profitability.
  • Repeated use of materiality to justify inappropriate accounting entries.

Corporate Culture and Structural Warning Signs

  • Domination of management by a single person or small group.
  • Excessive participation by non-financial managers in accounting issues.
  • Formal or informal restrictions on the auditor that limit access to key persons.
  • Ineffective communication and implementation of company’s values and ethical standards.
  • Ineffective or weak board of directors and audit committee.
  • Known history of violations of securities laws by the company, related entities and its executives or board members.
  • Overly complex organizational structure involving unusual entities.

CGAs should be aware of the basic types of financial statement fraud and the red flags that mandate closer examination. This basic knowledge will help CGAs and their clients from falling victim to fraudsters who seek to deceive investors, creditors and others with materially false financial statements.

OPP Warns Canadians Not to Fall for New Online Health Scams Related to COVID-19

It has been weeks since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and it is not yet showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. And yet, members of the Ontario Provincial Police or the OPP Anti-Rackets Branch’s Health Fraud Investigation Unit (HFIU) is busier than ever, citing an increase in the number of health care related scams linked to COVID-19 as the reason. OPP Anti-Rackets HFIU says that the new COVID-19 scams are targeting unsuspecting innocent Canadians to extort money and personal information.

Warning to Ontario Residents

Ontario residents are warned by OPP Anti-Rackets HFIU that they need to be extra vigilant as a lot of new online COVID-19 scams are specifically trying to gather health information through ‘harvest’ sites. Fraudsters are designing the harvest sites to look like legitimate websites and then trick victims into providing their sensitive personal information.

Fake Health Websites

The newly created websites pose as virtual care websites that at first glance can seem like websites designed to provide convenient and proper healthcare services to people. The truth is, the fraudulent websites use sophisticated malware to harvest personal information from people that can later be used for fraudulent billing or healthcare services and identity theft. In some cases, the scammers are extorting money from victims or asking for an upfront fake administrative fee for nonexistent services.

Protect Yourself Against Online COVID-19 Scams

Scammers take advantage of people’s emotional responses and prevailing misinformation to manipulate unsuspecting individuals. The best way that you can protect yourself is to stay informed and to follow the guidelines below:

  • Be skeptical of companies claiming they got COVID-19 cure and guaranteed prevention
  • Ask a lot of questions before providing information such as your Ontario Health Card Number, version code, or other personal information
  • Refrain from downloading any attachments from unfamiliar websites or email
  • Know that it is possible that spoofed source can look like a legitimate website or email
  • Going to a physician’s office should not incur additional technical charges or surcharges for sanitizing cost and the like
  • Make sure to verify who is calling if a call is requesting for your personal information
  • Do not be afraid to say no to anyone who contacts you for your credit card information, bank account number, driver’s license number, health card version code, or any other personal identifying information
  • It is perfectly okay to end all communication or contact with individuals or companies who keep on asking for sensitive information over the phone during COVID-19

Should you need more advice and information to help you avoid COVID-19 scams, be sure to refer to the Ontario Ministry of Health coverage and information or contact your insurance provider especially if you have queries about your insurance coverage.

If you know someone or think that you’ve been targeted for a health care related scam, insurance scam, or any COVID-19 scam, feel free to contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre or the police to report the possible fraud. If you need help to further protect yourself or to gather evidence for a report, contact us today at Haywood Hunt & Associates Inc. 

 

If You Don’t Hit the Numbers You’re Fired!!!

The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of any corporation has a challenging job.  Although the job functions of a CFO are varied, they can usually be grouped into the following main categories.

  • Implementation, monitoring and overall supervision of required financial controls. This includes the establishment of various policies and procedures that would include such key elements as revenue recognition and write-off policies.
  • Be the lead on key financial projects that require financial modeling and analysis as well as other key financial related initiatives.
  • Establish relationships with sources of capital and financing and keeping such sources informed as to corporate progress as appropriate.
  • Advise company senior management about the impact of operational decisions on company financial status.

There are many other roles and responsibilities for a CFO.  But what happens when in doing his or her job, the CFO’s duties and professional responsibilities come into conflict with other senior executives?  This can be even more of a challenge (and more troubling) if the CEO of the company has a very strong personality and is driven to get results, sometimes at all costs.

There have been a number of recent cases where this scenario has played out, sometimes in either the civil or the criminal courts.  One of the most recent Canadian cases involves the criminal trial of key figures at Livent Inc, the live entertainment company that was run by Myron Gottleib and Garth Drabinsky.  This case provides excellent insight into the relationships between the CEO and other senior executives and the financial accounting staff, including the CFO.

In her testimony during this criminal trial, Maria Messina, the former Chief Financial Office of Livent made several statements that alluded to the difficulty she faced when dealing with her senior management.  At one point during her tenure at Livent, Messina learned that company managers were planning to implement more than $20 million in accounting manipulations.  Messina met with company managers about this situation and urged them to reconsider the move.  Management responded by telling her that this was just income smoothing and that this was not really her concern.

Messina further testified that the CEO’s management style was dictatorial and bullying and the CEO would often fly into a rage.  “No one wanted to make a mistake that would trigger his anger….there was no way I was going up against him….I was afraid of what they would do to me.”

Messina’s experiences as CFO at Livent are instructive on how a strong CEO within a company can influence a CFO and other accounting staff to help manipulate the accounting records; manipulations that may amount to fraud.  Livent was a classic case of corporate fraud within the executive suite.

An academic paper titled “ Why Do CFO’s Become Involved in Material Accounting Manipulations” (Feng, Ge, Luo & Shelvin) provides some excellent insights to this corporate problem.   The authors examined CFO participation in accounting fraud from two perspectives:

  • CFO’s initiate accounting manipulations for immediate personal gain (i.e. manipulate corporate earning to take advantage of stock market gains)
  • CFO’s participate in accounting manipulations because of pressure from their CEO. Pressure may include compensation, career opportunities etc.

There is another perspective, however,  that should be added.  There are cases of accounting manipulations being done by senior executives in order to “save” a company.  The accounting manipulations can make a company look more profitable. This can affect debt covenants, loan arrangements and the stock price of a company.  Sometimes, executives are looking to buy some time in the hope that a company’s prospects will improve.

The academic paper also made some interesting conclusions.

  • CFO’s seem to bear substantial legal costs for committing accounting fraud but to not reap substantial rewards for doing so.
  • CFO’s tend to depart companies prior to the accounting fraud period. This may indicate that many CFO’s have either been fired for not acquiescing to the fraud or have voluntarily left the company.
  • CEO’s are more likely that CFO’s to be described as the ones who orchestrated the accounting manipulations and who benefited most from them.

The paper goes on to conclude that “taken together, our findings are consistent with the explanation that CFO’s become involved in accounting manipulations under pressure from CEO’s rather than instigating such manipulations for immediate personal gain. “

As an institution, what can a company do to prevent a strong CEO from pushing through unethical or illegal accounting manipulations?

  • The role CFO should be made more powerful within the organization. The CFO must have the ability to work independently so that the influence of the CEO is somewhat limited.
  • The audit committee of the organization should be the one who hires, fires and assesses the work of the CFO.
  • The CFO should have strong reporting lines to the audit committee, especially in cases where there are divergent opinions between the senior executives of the company.

What to Do?

For an honest CFO that is trying to be true to his or her obligations to their profession, the scenarios described are a nightmare.  If a CFO is put in a position of being part of unethical application of accounting standards or out-and-out accounting fraud, what steps can be taken to protect him or herself.  It’s a very difficult situation but here are some tips.

  • The CFO must document the situation and the reasons why the accounting transaction is unethical or illegal. In the first instance, the CFO should  present this memo to the CEO.
  • If the CEO refuses to act, the memo should be discussed with the audit committee.
  • When the audit committee reviews the situation and does not agree with the CFO’s viewpoint, the CFO has fulfilled his or her responsibility to the company. However, if  the CFO is concerned from an ethical or legal perspective, further steps should be taken.
  • The CFO should consult with his or her professional association and receive guidance concerning a course of actions and professional responsibility.
  • The CFO should consult with his or her own legal counsel.
  • Ultimately, the CFO may have to consider resigning if the CFO feels he or she is doing something against their ethics or is acquiescing to an act contrary to any law.

Livent Epilogue:

And what happened to the Livent CFO who testified at the Livent criminal trial.  Although Messina was not charged with criminal fraud, she did receive sanction from her professional association, the Chartered Accountants of Ontario. The summary of the outcome of her disciplinary hearing is below:

Maria Bernedette Messina, of Toronto, was found guilty of two charges under Rule 201.1 of failing to maintain the good reputation of the profession and its ability to serve the public interest, and one charge under Rule 205 of signing a statement which she knew to be false and misleading, arising out of her involvement in fraudulent activities at Livent Inc. While chief financial officer of Livent, Ms. Messina failed to disassociate herself from ongoing and material accounting irregularities, including the fraudulent manipulation of the books and records of the company. She failed to disclose her knowledge of the fraud to the company’s board of directors, audit committee or auditors, and took insufficient steps to prevent the release of the misstated audited financial statements. She signed a United States Securities and Exchange Commission registration statement knowing that the financial statements attached to it were false and misleading.  Ms. Messina was fined $7,500 and suspended for two years…

Accountants of all stripes should look at the Livent case as a warning that these difficult situations can happen to any professional accountant. Awareness about how to approach such situations can prove invaluable.  You may lose your job, but not your career!

 

Is the Coronavirus Causing an Increase in Cyber Affairs?

With collective stress levels at an all-time high, is it true that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing an increase in cyber affairs aka online affairs? Statistics from the American Psychological Association estimate that around 20% to 40% of couples deal with infidelity in the course of their relationship.

Lockdowns Are Recipe for Affairs?

With most people cooped up at home, it is easy to assume that affairs will be at an all-time low. However, despite not being allowed to be within 6 feet of another person who isn’t from your household, it looks like the famous website for instigating affairs, Ashley Madison, is seeing a huge increase in new sign-ups. New sign-ups typically average at about 15,500 new sign-ups per day prior to the pandemic, but current sign-ups are averaging at 17,000 new accounts a day. A recent Ashley Madison survey shared that 30% of its female users are currently exploring cybersex with their affair partners.

The shift to online affairs is backed by previous polls, with female members citing sexless marriages as their primary reason for wanting an affair. Ashley Madison chief strategy officer Paul Keable says that the current nationwide self-isolation is what is driving the further increase in virtual affairs in order to augment what people are missing physically.

Married People Are Swarming Dating Apps

Anecdotal reports say that those who use regular dating apps are seeing an increase in still-married members. Bumble reported an 84% increase in in-app video chats and voice calls while OkCupid reported a 10% increase in new matches worldwide between March 9 and March 23, 2020 alone. Most of the new heavy app users claim to be non-monogamous.

Ashley Madison seems to corroborate that more non-single people are using online methods to try to cope with the stress of the pandemic, sharing that their members told them they are using the site to release some pressure from being at home.

Why is There an Increase in Affairs?

It seems that some people are struggling with coping with wanting to feel desired, especially that most are cooped up at home with limited outside interaction. Sex therapist and book author Tammy Nelson, PhD, says that it could be that a lot of people want to feel more alive in the face of fear of dying.

Is It Truly Cheating?

Some of those who are engaging in meeting romantic connections online while still in a relationship seems to disagree that they are cheating. An online couple, Rob and Jessica, shares that Jessica is quarantining alone while Rob has a current girlfriend who is an essential health worker. Jessica says they talk often and has had cybersex twice; acts that she counts as cheating and having an emotional affair because Rob has a girlfriend. Rob disagrees and says that it is simply a way for him to have companionship. He further shared that he feels as though he is starving and that he’s only trying to compensate by having a cyber affair with Jessica. Jessica doesn’t see them communicating further after the pandemic. Stating that she feels used and she wants something serious.

Dr. Nelson stated that cyber affairs may help people find balance in their lives at present time, adding that the increasing trend may continue well after the pandemic even for couples who still love each other.

Are you suspecting that your partner may be having an online affair? Our private investigation services can help you deal with a cheating partner. Contact us today and let our private investigators discuss with you the many ways we can be of assistance especially with internet dating investigations.

 

COVID-19 Insurance Scams to Watch Out For

COVID-19 scams are on the rise, including insurance scams. Although most of the country is either social distancing or are on lockdown, the fraud-fighting community is seeing a rise in the number of insurance fraud cases. The rise is very noticeable and is enough to prompt organizations to issue alerts for their consumers.

Playing with Vulnerabilities

As we face a health crisis, people are understandably more anxious and fearful regarding what the future may hold for them. Add to this the fact that a pandemic brings in a set of problems that institutions are not ready for, and it is easy to see how criminals would see the situation as an opportunity to commit fraud.

How does one recognize if something is fraudulent, then? National Insurance Crime Bureau Senior Vice President James Schweitzer says that if something sounds too good to be true, then something might be afoot. He adds that scammers are targeting people by appealing to the inherent desire for information and hope. Scammers send emails and post ads on social media that appeal to this human need and then ask for personal information such as Social Security Number, credit card information, and similar sensitive data. Victims may then get their identity stolen from them or used for illegal activities. Below are other COVID-19 scams to watch out for.

COVID-19 Insurance Scam

Bogus insurance agents are trying to mimic mainstream and legitimate companies and pitching to sell COVID-19 insurance. The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud urges people not to follow their links or entertain their calls as there is no insurance product that covers COVID-19 problems the way they are marketing it.

COVID-19 Car Insurance Scam

Even with minimal vehicles on the streets, scammers will find a way to purposely cause accidents to be able to file a claim against their own insurance or a target’s insurance. These staged accidents work for car insurance scam because social distancing means fewer witnesses as well as people not taking a closer look at fake injuries to avoid a possible infection with COVID-19.

COVID-19 Travel Insurance Scam

There is a proliferation of bogus travel insurance policies that claim coverage for trip cancellations related to COVID-19. Note that most travel insurance policies have no coverage for pandemics, so a COVID-19 coverage is an immediate red flag. A Cancel for Any Reason coverage or a CFAR is most often just a sales pitch and had to be purchased separately within strict limitations.

COVID-19 Phishing Scam or Spoofing Scam

Unsolicited emails that look like they are from legitimate companies and requesting for personal information are most likely bogus. So are messages from companies who claim to have access to cures, ventilators, COVID-19 diagnostic kits, and the like. It is best to not fill out any forms from such messages and to simply mark the message as spam.

Fraud is truly on the rise these days. It pays to be extra careful and read up on ongoing scams particularly the ones that the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre warned about aside from the COVID-19 scams above. Exercise extra prudence more so with unsolicited communication too. If you think that you have been scammed or has been targeted by scammers, contact us to inquire about the ways that our private investigators can help you protect yourself using our private investigation services.

 

Is the COVID-19 Changing the Pattern of Criminal Activity in Canadian Cities?

In the face of lockdowns and stay at home orders from the authorities, it seems like a new pattern of neighbourhood crime is emerging in Canada. The police are reporting fewer incidences of drunk driving, fraud, traffic violations, and other crimes, but has been seeing a marked increase in domestic violence for the past few weeks overall.

Emergency declarations of limitations on work, movement, business, and recreation across most of Canada changed the lifestyles of millions of Canadians. Families and individuals are in self-isolation with only the people they live with for companionship, putting more stress and strain on relationships as the weeks drag by.

Interesting Crime Patterns in York

Police forces told National Post that new highs and lows are being recorded and that their forces are very busy trying to keep order. York police reported a 13% decrease in overall crime for March 2020 compared to the same month a year ago. Impaired driving was down by 29% and routine traffic violations was down by 32% as a result of bars being closed and people staying home. Weapons offences was down by 13% and frauds was down by 16% too; unfortunately, commercial break-ins rose by 45% in March and theft of vehicles rose by 44% as more vehicles and stores lay empty without people nearby.

Inside the home, it is much worse. Domestic complaints rose by 22%, with people reporting anything from verbal altercations to truly violent domestic assault. Other areas in Canada are seeing the same general trend but may not be as pronounced as it is in York.

Toronto Reports Crime Patterns

The weekly statistics in Toronto show almost no change in homicide but with a marked decline in other major crime categories. Meaghan Gray of Toronto police says that this pattern may be attributed to self-isolation and social distancing although the incidences of other crimes such as break-ins and vehicle theft also declined in Toronto.

Vancouver, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Edmonton Share Their Numbers

Mental health calls saw a 52% in Edmonton for March 2020 compared to March 2019 as shared by their Police Service spokesman Scott Pattison. Calls associated with serious domestic violence increased by 62% for the first quarter of 2020.

Ottawa reports that their main crime concerns are stunt driving, commercial break-ins, and domestic abuse. Insp. Jim Elves shares that their department is also concerned that victims of domestic abuse may also be not reporting their abusers nor getting treatment in clinics or hospitals for their injuries.

Vancouver police reported a 10% decrease in overall calls but saw an increase in commercial break-ins. Chief Adam Palmer says that it looks like thieves are taking advantage of social distancing and the fact that commercial establishments are mostly closed. Overall property crime in Vancouver declined by 12% compared to the weeks prior to the pandemic.

While Calgary doesn’t have enough data to share crime patterns yet, Winnipeg Police Const. Jay Murray says that COVID-19 doesn’t seem to have a noticeable impact on crime numbers in their locale.

The above data goes to show that with COVID-19 comes new challenges in terms of keeping one’s self protected from crimes. If you have any specific concerns or need help with uncovering COVID-19 fraud and scam or any other crime that you want to gather data on during the pandemic, feel free to avail of our private investigation services. Call us today!

 

Millions of Coronavirus Scam Emails Are Being Blocked by Google Everyday

Google has been actively fighting off scam emails related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the latest report says the tech giant is blocking around 100 million coronavirus scam emails per day. The coronavirus emails are phishing attacks launched by scammers to collect data such as personal information from unsuspecting individuals. After collecting the information, the information will be used to hack accounts or to steal identities to commit more fraud.

Explosion of Phishing Attacks

Criminals are getting more creative and can even send emails that may seem like regular emails from banks, government offices, and billing companies. The latest scam email trend is to use the coronavirus pandemic as the email’s header to get people to click on an email and provide the information the scammers are looking for in order to commit fraud. It is estimated that there could be hundreds of millions of scam emails per day and Google is able to filter or block 100 million per day to protect the 1.5 billion people who are users of Gmail service.

Impersonation of the World Health Organization

What is particularly alarming is how the phishing emails would impersonate authorities and health agencies. A huge number of such emails are impersonating the World Health Organization to persuade people to donate to bogus causes or to download malware. Some emails sent by the cyber criminals imitate government institutions to capitalize on government support packages.

The Fight Against Fraudulent Email

Google is currently using their machine learning tools to block coronavirus phishing emails and they’ve been successful at blocking more than 99.9% of the emails from reaching their users. With this said, the emails are still around and increased significantly. In fact, several cyber security companies are currently looking into this and report that they’ve seen a 667% increase in phishing emails since the pandemic started.

Exploitation of Legitimate Fears and Concerns

Fraudulent emails could be from anywhere. There are some that are pretending to be from the UK government, some from those who are pretending to be from the CDC or Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, some that claim to be from specific politicians or world leaders, and some that claim to be from the World Health Organization. A rule of thumb for ignoring such emails is that if you are not signed up for an email service from a specific sender, then it is unlikely that they would have your contact details to send you emails.

No matter how important an email sounds like, if it is asking you to provide personal information, to download something on your device, or to log-in at an app or a website that you haven’t heard of, simply report the email as fraud and do not open any links on it. Remember that cyber criminals are banking on confusion, fear, and other emotional responses to try to get people to do what they want when they are most vulnerable.

Have you provided your information to a possible phishing email or downloaded a fake COVID-19 tracker app? Contact us today and we may be able to assist you to protect yourself with the help of our private investigation services. Not only can we help you avoid phishing scams in the future, but we can look at your internet fraud vulnerability and provide you with steps to protect yourself.

Spotting Phishing Scams Related to COVID-19

Not even an economy-stopping pandemic will stop fraudsters. As more nations feel the grip of the increasing health crisis, scammers are taking full advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to send fake emails to people tricking hapless victims into clicking on malicious links or attachments and revealing their personal information.

COVID-19 Cyber Security Scam Alert

A COVID-19 phishing email looks like a normal email complete with authentic-looking logos and branding. They often use the World Health Organization’s branding or logos or use the same from other public or government health agencies. Know that phishing is not limited to email, as some fraudsters resort to calling Canadian homes with offers of fake laboratory testing or fraudulent requests for donations.

How to Avoid a COVID-19 Scam

Scammers will send emails that will attempt to get your personal information or install malware into your mobile device or computer. Some will look like a donation link designed to capture your credit card information. Take the following steps to avoid becoming a victim.

  • Practice skepticism. No matter how authentic looking an email may be, try to be more skeptic and nitpick details in the email. If the email contains email addresses, toll-free numbers, or website links, you can double check by using a known email address, website, or email of the organization to avoid clicking on fake links and contacting the scammers directly. If you want to verify some information, know that the right information will be posted on your provincial health agency’s website or the Public Health Agency of Canada website.
  • Always check the email address of the sender. Phishing emails use sender addresses or names that may look like the real thing, but if you hover on the sender’s name, the actual email doesn’t match the sender at all.
  • Avoid clicking on attachments or links. Embedded links in phishing emails seem valid, but the address it links to is definitely not. If the link address seems suspicious or does not seem connected to the highlighted text, there is a big possibility that it is a phishing email. If there are any attachments that aren’t expected or seem out of place, it might be infected with malware.
  • Be more vigilant. If an email is requesting for your financial information or personal data, that may be fake.
  • Make sure that your devices are protected. Installing anti-spam, anti-malware, anti-virus, and anti-spyware software can seem like being too cautious but you’ll be happy that you have them for protection in case of a possible attack.

What to do with a Phishing Email

You can’t avoid receiving phishing emails because they are everywhere. What you can do is either report them or delete/block them. You can report the email to the organization being spoofed so that they can issue the necessary warnings for other people. By blocking or deleting the email, you can save yourself some wasted time and headache down the road.

Aside from checking the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre for a compiled list of COVID-19 scams, you can stay tuned in this blog for more news on COVID-19 fraud. You can also check the government of Canada approved information regarding COVID-19 at https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection.html. If you think that you may have been a victim of phishing or identity theft, do not hesitate to contact us. Our private investigators can help you with the necessary steps to protect yourself against phishing scams as well as gather data that you may need for an official police report using our private investigation services.

Brampton Man Arrested After Faking COVID-19 to Get Out of Work

A Brampton man faked having COVID-19 in order to get out of work. He has been charged after he falsely claimed contact with someone infected with the novel coronavirus earlier this week.

The Man Who Cried Corona

Peel police was contacted by a Brampton business owner around 9:15 a.m. Monday following an immediate shutdown after an employee claimed contact with a family member who is positive with COVID-19. After careful investigation, officers found out that the claim was a hoax orchestrated by the man to get off of work. To be clear, there is no one from the man’s family who was sick with the novel coronavirus or was exposed to it.

The Brampton man is 39-years-old and works at a small business. He was charged with public mischief and released on the promise that he will appear at a later scheduled date in a Brampton court.

More Fake COVID-19 Cases

This is not the first case of someone pretending to have COVID-19. A McDonald’s worker in Hamilton was charged after a fake positive COVID-19 test less than a week ago. Just last Friday, the 18-year-old woman faked a doctor’s note stating a confirmed positive COVID-19 result to not have to work at McDonald’s for her shift. The restaurant had to shut down as a result and people were also made to worry needlessly. She was charged with fraud under $5,000 as she made and used a forged document as well as mischief over $5,000 for causing the restaurant to shutdown operations.

Warning Against Faking a Coronavirus Infection

The world is facing serious health and economic threats from having to shutdown places in relation to the spread of COVID-19 infection. Once a person is suspected of having it, an immediate tracing of people he/she came in contact it will be done, using up already strained government resources. Places that he/she frequented will be disinfected and possibly shut down, causing a substantial loss in revenue plus spread of fear, panic, and worry.

The damages of a fake positive COVID-19 infection go beyond just money. A case of COVID-19 should not be treated as a joke as there are people who place their lives in danger and have lost their lives in the fight against it. It is not worth it to lose one’s job and face serious legal consequences just to get out of work for a day or a few days by faking a novel coronavirus infection.

Beware of Fake COVID-19 Claims

If you have heard that someone you know may be infected with COVID-19, it is best to stay calm and verify the information. Contacting the local authorities will help as well. If you know of any information that are related to the cases above, kindly contact 22 Division at 905-453-2121 ext.1233. Should you wish to leave information anonymously, contact Peel Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Are you a business owner who quickly needs to verify a claim of COVID-19 infection by your staff? Contact us at Haywood Hunt and we’ll see how we can help you avoid falling for fraud and possible COVID-19 scams with the use of our private investigation services.