The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted lives around the world, including families across Alberta and especially seniors, who are isolated from support groups. The recent volatility of the markets, coupled with potentially lost retirement savings and social isolation, has created an environment of fear, uncertainty and vulnerability. Unfortunately, this is exactly the environment that scam artists prey upon.
As COVID-19 continues to spread, associated scams are emerging as scam artists exploit the crisis to profit from people’s fears, uncertainties and misinformation.
There are many types of fraud popping up during COVID-19. One example includes phishing and malware scams where scammers pose as governmental agencies, national or global health authorities, and send phishing emails or texts designed to trick people into downloading malware or providing personal identification and financial information. They can appear to be real, but err on the side of caution and think carefully before providing anyone with this information.
Another common scam are pump-and-dump schemes involving publicly traded small “shell” companies. Scam artists will ‘pump’ up the company’s value by enticing investors to purchase stock with inflated or false claims, then quickly ‘dump’ their stock before the hype ends. This results in a substantial payout for the scam artist while all the remaining investors lose their money. Often pump-and-dump schemes can be related to companies claiming to have products or services that will prevent, detect or cure COVID-19 infection. Be cautious of any claims that a company has a solution to help stop the coronavirus outbreak.
There are multiple ways that scam artists will target an individual. According to a 2020 study conducted by the Alberta Securities Commission (ASC), some of the most common ways Albertans 55+ years of age believed they were approached with a potentially fraudulent investment scam were:
- Through a friend, neighbour, co-worker or family member, or from a member of a club, group or organization they belong to (32%)
- By a stranger calling over the telephone (22%)
- From email spam (23%)
When considering investing in any opportunity, always read the fine print and research the investment – no matter how the opportunity was presented to you. Keep in mind that fraudsters often exploit the latest crisis with the COVID-19 outbreak being no different. Don’t be lured in by promises of easy returns – more likely you’ll be asked for money upfront that you’ll never see again. Also remember that anyone selling investments needs to be registered with provincial securities regulators to do so. For more information on how to recognize and avoid these scams and to check the registration of any individual or firm offering you an investment opportunity, visit the Alberta Securities Commission’s website: Checkfirst.ca.