Canadians have lost more than $1.2 million in recent weeks to scammers taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic, CBC News has learned.
Jeff Thomson of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said the centre has received 739 reports since March 6 of attempts to defraud Canadians with scams related to the pandemic. He said 178 of those attempts succeeded.
The centre is also seeing attempts to use the pandemic as cover to infect computers with malware.
The victims of one such scheme receive messages telling them they’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and asking them to fill out what looks like an Excel form. When users click to enable the content and view the form, it infects their computers with a Trojan downloader that installs malicious files, said Thomson.
He said it’s not the first time scammers have adapted their tactics to try to cash in on an emergency.
“It’s the heightened sense of anxiety, of fear … The isolation that people are in right now is also a key factor,” Thomson told CBC News.
“Essentially, frauds are designed to get people to not think straight. So if, you know, people are already in that state … they may not be thinking straight. So it’s prime time for scammers and fraudsters to solicit for scams.”
Any direct communication Canadians receive about applying for the CERB is a scam.– Etienne Biram, CRA spokesperson
The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security is also seeing attempts to scam Canadians over COVID-19.
“COVID-19 has presented cybercriminals and fraudsters with an effective lure to encourage victims to visit fake web sites, open e-mail attachments and click on text message links,” said Ryan Foreman, spokesman for the Communications Security Establishment and the Centre for Cyber Security.
“These e-mails typically impersonate health organizations and can even pretend to be from the Government of Canada. Canadians need to be aware that this type of threat is real, is happening, and that these types of COVID-19 e-mails and websites are really fraud.”
Foreman said the centre has worked with industry to take down 2,000 websites that were trying to defraud Canadians — including some that pretended to belong to government organizations like the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and the Canada Border Services Agency.
Scammers impersonating government agencies
Those government agencies are involved in one way or another with the federal government’s pandemic response; the CRA, for instance, is charged with getting Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) payments out the door. Online con artists are making that work more challenging.
“Scams purporting to be connected to the CERB may have many variations, but all appear to have the goal of duping Canadians into providing personal information under the guise of helping them claim the benefit,” said CRA spokesperson Etienne Biram.
“To be clear, the CRA is not contacting Canadians to claim CERB. Canadians must apply for the credit themselves. Simply put, any direct communication Canadians receive about applying for the CERB is a scam.”
Toronto-area resident Joanna Giannakopoulos almost fell for that scam. She received a text a few days after she was laid off from her job in a restaurant.
“I clicked the link because I thought it was a text from the government,” she said.
Phishing swindles, merchandise scams
Following the instructions in the text, Giannakopoulos filled out and submitted personal information — her full name, her social insurance number, her bank, her bank account number and password — before she suddenly realized there was something wrong with the text’s website address.
She had to scramble to notify her bank and credit agencies that her information could have been breached.
“I think that can be an easy trap, especially at a vulnerable time like right now,” she said.
Thomson said the phishing scam asking victims to click on a link to collect a benefit is one of the “hot scams” — but it’s not the only one the centre is seeing.
“We continue to see a variety of merchandise scams, including offers for free masks or test kits … text messages or e-mails that ask you to click on links to complete a survey which, again, will harvest your credit card, your personal information.”
Con artists are upping their game
Other countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, are also getting hit with COVID-19 scams.
U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said he has seen the form of the scams evolve over the course of the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, we have seen that some of the fraudsters have adapted their business plans in the midst of a pandemic,” Pai said. “Earlier on, they were focusing more on spam, text messages and robocalls relating to, for example, testing kits and fake cures and the like.
“Now, recently, we’ve seen an uptick in trends relating to more work-related offers. So, for example, Amazon is looking for people to work from home as an associate. Give us some of your personal information. Here’s a free subscription to Netflix for five months.”
Pai said the FCC is finding that the vast majority of the scam calls are coming from overseas into the North American market.
“They’re all over the world,” he said. “It could be Philippines, India, China, Brazil. Unfortunately, this is a worldwide phenomenon.”
Pai said scammers often target small gateway telecom providers who pass the call or text on to larger providers. He said the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission issued a notice to those gateway providers regarding international robocalls and robotexts.
“We showed them the sources that we were seeing,” said Pai. “They cracked down the next day, within 24 hours. And that’s helped us combat this problem in some cases very, very quickly.”
Canadian telecom companies and the association that represents them, meanwhile, say they take the problem seriously but offered few examples of concrete action.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said it doesn’t comment on possible investigations. It said Canadians should be vigilant about scams and report them to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Nov. 23 – CBC.ca
P.E.I., Newfoundland and Labrador hit pause on Atlantic travel bubble
Residents of the four Atlantic provinces have been able to travel relatively freely across each other’s borders without quarantining, but that came to a halt on Monday after announcements from Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island. Both provinces cited rising cases in recent days in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
“The Atlantic bubble has been a source of pride … but the situation has changed,” Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said in announcing a two-week pause from unfettered travel.
Travel to and from Newfoundland and Labrador will only be for essential reasons, Furey said.
P.E.I. said it will re-evaluate on Dec. 7, but beginning Tuesday, those arriving on the island from the other Atlantic provinces will have to self-isolate for 14 days.
“Over the last number of days, it has become apparent that our neighbours in Atlantic Canada, especially Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, are experiencing a second wave,” said Dr. Heather Morrison, the province’s chief public health officer. “I’m concerned it may already be here with some people,” she added.
Those coming to the province from the other three Atlantic provinces will once again need to apply for entry, and students who return to P.E.I. will need to self-isolate for two weeks.
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Workplace compensation claims reflect COVID-19 toll on Canadian workers
CBC News has reached out to provincial workers’ compensation boards across the country and found that more than 26,000 claims have been filed by people who contracted COVID-19 at work, the first concrete indication — though not fully complete — of how many workers are getting COVID-19.
Jeffrey Freedman, who was among those 26,000, felt he had no choice earlier in the pandemic but to work at his tile company despite the risk of infection. Freedman spent 44 days in hospital and still can’t work or drive a vehicle due to lingering health effects.
“I have brain fog. I have permanent damage to my vocal cords from the ICU and tubing for 33 days. I have constant neck and bicep pains,” he said.
In Ontario and British Columbia, the data shows that most claims have come from workers in health-care facilities and agriculture.
A quarter of workers in Ontario are not covered at all by the workers’ compensation system, compared with B.C., where all workers have coverage. In addition to variations across the provinces in terms of eligibility, data collection is a challenge as there is no standard accounting of how many people have fallen sick while at work due to a patchwork of provincial and federal tracking. What’s more, the system does not capture COVID-19 cases among workers who are ineligible.
National grief strategy needed for COVID-19 losses, advocacy group says
With over 11,000 Canadians dead from COVID-19, an organization called the Canadian Grief Alliance has been pushing the federal government for a national strategy to help people cope with the increased loss society is facing. The alliance hopes the government will invest $100 million over three years.
Shelly Cory, executive director of Canadian Virtual Hospice and one of the founders of the alliance, says the pandemic’s impact on Canada and the number of people who are grieving is “astounding.” The alliance is calling for a national consultation to help understand the impact and scope of the issue.
“We’ve never dealt with grief from a pandemic. We need to understand where the pressure points are and where we need to provide resources to suffering Canadians,” said Cory, who noted that grief during the pandemic doesn’t involve dealing with the death of a loved one only.
Health Canada says it has funded Wellness Together Canada, a portal that provides Canadians with access to free, credible information and supports to help reinforce mental wellness and address mental health and substance use issues.
The agency also said it has received the proposal from the Canadian Grief Alliance, and officials have been engaging with the organization to discuss its proposal.
Distribution, national registry key issues in COVID-19 vaccine rollout
The past two weeks have provided encouraging news on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, including on Monday from AstraZeneca, but there will be challenges in distributing and tracking vaccine usage in a country as vast as Canada.
In an interview on Rosemary Barton Live, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister called for “national criteria” to guide the country’s distribution efforts.
“Vulnerable people, and, of course, front-line workers, are going to get it first. We all agree with that. But we need to also come to a national agreement on those criteria because it isn’t going to be here all at the same time,” said Pallister.
The head of the committee advising the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) on the use of vaccines also spoke to Barton. Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh says another challenge, aside from prioritizing who gets the vaccine, is that there is no national registry to oversee and track vaccination records.
“I think that most provinces have registries so that they’re able to follow up on who gets what, and it’s now the time to really be able to use it,” said Quach-Thanh.
Co-ordination and communication between levels of government will be critical. Even in the first few days after positive news regarding the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, there appeared to be confusion between some provinces and the feds on how many doses were being allocated.
Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.
University of Guelph researchers look for answers regarding COVID-19 ‘long-haulers’
Researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario are trying to determine why months after infection with COVID-19, some people are still battling crushing fatigue, lung damage and other symptoms of the novel coronavirus.
Jackie Loree, a respiratory nurse in Kitchener, Ont. is a COVID-19 long-hauler. She tested positive for coronavirus in April, and eight months later she is still experiencing its effects.
“My circulation is poor. I still have bouts of nausea. I lost a great deal of my hair throughout this process, and every day is different,” she told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo’s The Morning Edition. “I always have symptoms every day and it’s very difficult.”
Dr. Melanie Wills, director at the G. Magnotta Lyme Disease Research Lab at the university, said when the pandemic hit in early spring, they saw a potential similarity between COVID-19 and Lyme disease — some patients just don’t seem to get better.
“It’s like a snowball rolling down a hill with COVID now, and so my question is: if we are seeing a chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia syndrome emerging from the COVID, is that finally going to shine a spotlight on these types of diseases that have been really ignored to our own peril?” said Wills.
What researchers find will be crucial in treating those with lasting symptoms and trying to prevent new infections from lingering.
Consistency key to adopting new fitness routines during pandemic, researchers say
With several provinces entering a more restrictive phase of lockdown that often affects gyms and recreation centres, health researchers in B.C. say it’s important to fight against apathy and still find ways to incorporate a regular fitness routine.
“It’s not something to sort of push off,” says University of Victoria Prof. Ryan Rhodes, who studies health psychology and how people approach and do exercise. “We have to accept that this is a new reality and find new routines to get our physical activity going,” he said.
Rhodes and Guy Faulkner from the University of British Columbia worked on different studies looking at how Canadians were exercising during the initial response to the pandemic. They found a noticed drop-off even among regular exercisers.
Early in the pandemic, it was learned that people with dogs more easily kept up with exercise by walking their pets. People who had exercise equipment at home, bought new equipment or even turned to YouTube for exercise videos also fared better in keeping up with a routine.
Some tips: exercising at the same time of day to build a routine; emphasizing the activities you like most; and taking a walk in the morning and at the end of the working day as a sort of faux commute.
Find out more about COVID-19
Still looking for more information on the pandemic? Read more about COVID-19’s impact on life in Canada, or reach out to us at email@example.com if you have any questions.
If you have symptoms of the illness caused by the coronavirus, here’s what to do in your part of the country.
For full coverage of how your province or territory is responding to COVID-19, visit your local CBC News site.
To get this newsletter daily as an email, subscribe here.
CRA warns 213,000 Canadians that they might have to pay back CERB overpayments – CBC.ca
The Canada Revenue Agency says it’s warning about 213,000 Canadians who may have been paid twice through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program that they could be called upon to repay the money.
But repayment isn’t required right away, says the agency. The CRA has suspended collection of debts for the duration of the pandemic emergency.
“The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has issued letters to individuals who may have applied for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) from both Service Canada and the CRA, and who may be required to repay an amount to the CRA,” a CRA spokesperson said in an email. “The letters did not require immediate payment; rather they informed the taxpayer that there may be a requirement to repay amounts received.
“We will resume collections activities when it is responsible to do so, including collection of debts related to CERB payments,”
The CRA was responding to CBC’s question about individuals being asked to repay pandemic benefits. The agency says it is still recommending that people pay back any CERB funds to which they’re not entitled by the end of the year, warning that if they don’t, the sum will appear on T4A tax slips and will need to be reported as income on next year’s tax return.
‘An honest mistake’
In emails to CBC News about possible repayments, CRA was careful to avoid suggesting that all those who received letters warning they might have to repay CERB money had been caught in any kind of unethical behaviour.
A CRA spokesperson noted that “applicants may make an honest mistake when applying” for CERB.
It’s also possible that some of those who have received letters about repayment already had returned the money voluntarily, or had incorrectly repaid the money to Service Canada instead of the CRA, the spokesperson said.
According to the latest figures, 945,000 pandemic benefit repayments — including for CERB and the Canada Emergency Student Benefit — have been conducted through the CRA’s My Account online portal. The large number has been blamed on confusion over how to apply for the benefits in the early days of the pandemic.
Last week, a Conservative MP raised concerns about CRA figures indicating more than 800,000 non-tax filers had received CERB payments. But several economists were quick to point out that Canadians can qualify for CERB even if they haven’t previously filed taxes — and only people who owe money to the CRA are required to file a return.
For Canadians who do have to return some pandemic benefits, the CRA says it can come up with individual arrangements based on their ability to pay.
In cases where the CRA can’t come to such an arrangement with a taxpayer, it would turn to collections measures. Those measures remain on hold during the pandemic but they could include taking away future tax credits and refunds or garnishing wages, a spokesperson said.
The CRA also has warned Canadians to be aware of CERB repayment scams, including texts, emails or phone calls that appear to come from the CRA and ask for money or personal information.
Coronavirus: Canada tops 330K cases ahead of new COVID-19 restrictions – Global News
Regions across Canada braced for a host of new public health restrictions on Sunday as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic sent case counts soaring from coast to coast.
Surging case counts that reached record heights in several provinces over the weekend spelled the short-term end to restaurant and retail service in some infection hot spots, while others prepared to further cap public and private gatherings in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.
Across the country, health authorities identified a total of 4,792 new cases of the virus as well as 49 more deaths. The new infections, which now place Canada in its sixteenth day of daily-identified cases topping the 4,000 mark, bring the country’s total cases to 330,201.
A total of 11,455 people have also succumbed to the virus, while at least 261,201 patients have since recovered. Over 13.7 million tests have also been administered.
In Ontario, which reported 1,534 new cases and 14 additional deaths on Sunday, shoppers flocked to local stores in Toronto and neighbouring Peel Region a day before both districts were slated to enter the lockdown phase of the provincial pandemic response plan.
Janet Reid visited Toronto’s Eaton Centre on Sunday afternoon to do some last-minute shopping in the hours before non-essential retailers close their doors to in-person visitors.
Ski resorts seeing busy season start thanks to COVID-19
She said she hoped the restrictions, which also include the closure of salons and the suspension of indoor dining at local restaurants, would help bring the COVID-19 numbers down.
“It’s going to take everybody to do it, and not just a few people to do it,” Reid said.
Public health officials in Atlantic Canada have also announced new limits on gatherings as the region saw a recent increase in COVID-19 cases, marking a reversal from the stable figures reported for months.
Nova Scotia’s Hants County and the Halifax area will be under stricter rules as of Monday, including a limit of five people who can gather without social distancing, down from the previous cap of 10.
The province reported 11 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, bringing its number of active diagnoses to 44.
“I know this will not be easy, but it’s an initial step to contain the community spread and avoid the potential to overwhelm our health-care system,” Dr Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, said in a Friday statement outlining the new rules.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, which reported three new cases on Sunday, Memorial University announced plans to postpone staff members’ scheduled return to work, originally set for the coming week.
The small town of Deer Lake, N.L., also sounded the alarm over a regional spike in cases when it announced a two-week closure of some municipal buildings and asked local businesses to follow suit.
The slew of pending restrictions is in line with advice from Canada’s top public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, who on Sunday urged people to limit gatherings and only go out for essentials ahead of the holiday season.
Tam said Canada is seeing “rapid epidemic growth,” as the country has now recorded 330,492 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
Alberta added to that tally with 1,584 new cases on Sunday, marking the fourth straight day the daily count has reached a record high.
Ottawa opens new COVID-19 emergency rent subsidy for businesses
Health officials in Nunavut reported 18 new cases on Sunday in Arviat, a small community on Hudson Bay that now has 98 active infections.
The territory, which went into a two-week lockdown on Nov. 18, currently has 128 active COVID-19 cases. No deaths have been reported.
“Health teams are working around the clock in Arviat, Whale Cove and Rankin Inlet to trace, test, isolate and contain the spread of the virus,” Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Quebec reported 1,154 new COVID-19 cases and 23 additional deaths on Sunday, bringing the highest provincial total in the country to 132,042 cases and 6,829 deaths since the pandemic began.
Officials in New Brunswick reported six new COVID-19 cases and warned that three schools may have been exposed to the virus. The province set a single-day record on Saturday with 23 new cases.
Saskatchewan logged 236 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, while Manitoba recorded 243 new instances of the virus and 12 related deaths.
Manitoba’s most recent round of stringent measures took effect Friday. The Hanover School Division, which includes Steinbach, about 60 kilometres south of Winnipeg, will switch to remote learning only on Tuesday.
Worldwide, cases of the virus surpassed 58.5 million according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. A total of 1,386,454 have also succumbed to the virus, with the U.S., Brazil and India leading in both cases and deaths.
— With files from Global News and CP’s Anita Balakrishnan in Toronto, Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton and Sarah Smellie in St. John’s.
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