The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, August 16, 2020 12:16PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, August 16, 2020 2:37PM EDT
OTTAWA – Federal authorities were scrambling for answers over the weekend after revealing that hackers used thousands of stolen usernames and passwords to fraudulently obtain government services – with the extent of the damage still unclear.
More than 9,000 hijacked accounts that Canadians use to apply for and access federal services have been cancelled after being compromised in what the Treasury Board of Canada described as “credential stuffing” attacks.
“These attacks, which used passwords and usernames collected from previous hacks of accounts worldwide, took advantage of the fact that many people reuse passwords and usernames across multiple accounts,” the federal department said in a statement.
The hacked accounts were tied to GCKey, which is used by around 30 federal departments and allows Canadians to access various services such as employment insurance, veterans’ benefits and immigration applications.
One-third of those accounts successfully accessed services before all of the affected accounts were shut down, said the Treasury Board, which is responsible for managing the federal civil service as well as the public purse.
Officials are now trying to determine how many of those services were fraudulent.
The GCKey attack included thousands of Canada Revenue Agency accounts, through which Canadians can access their income-tax records and other personal information as well as apply for financial support related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A total of 5,500 CRA accounts were targeted through the GCKey attack and an earlier “credential stuffing” scheme, the Treasury Board said.
“Access to all affected accounts has been disabled to maintain the safety and security of taxpayers’ information and the Agency is contacting all affected individuals and will work with them to restore access to their CRA MyAccount,” the department said.
Yet at least one victim says she has yet to hear anything from the government after someone hacked into her CRA account earlier this month and successfully applied for the $2,000-per-month Canada Emergency Response Benefit for COVID-19.
Leah Baverstock, a law clerk in Kitchener, Ont., says she first realized her account had been compromised and contacted the revenue agency herself when she received several emails from CRA on Aug. 7 saying she had successfully applied for the CERB.
“The lady I spoke to at CRA, she’s said: ‘This is a one-off,”’ said Baverstock, who has continued to work through the pandemic and did not apply for the support payments.
“And she told me a senior officer would be calling me within 24 hours because my account was completely locked down. And I still haven’t heard from anybody.”
Baverstock expressed frustration at the lack of contact, adding she still does not know how the hackers accessed her account. She has since contacted her bank and other financial institutions to stop the hackers from using her information to commit more fraud.
“I am quite concerned,” she said. “Somebody could be leaving under my name. Who knows. It’s scary. It’s really scary.”
The Treasury Board did not reveal how many of the CRA accounts were compromised or the cost of the suspected fraud, but said federal officials as well as the RCMP and federal privacy commissioner were conducting separate investigations.
And while the CRA says victims will get letters explaining how to confirm their identities to regain access to their accounts, it did not say how those receiving the Canada Child Benefit, CERB and other services will be affected by their accounts being suspended.
The government warned Canadians to use unique passwords for all online accounts and to monitor them for suspicious activity.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says more than 13,000 Canadians have been victims of fraud totalling $51 million this year. There have been 1,729 victims of COVID-19 fraud worth $5.55 million.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 16, 2020.
Why some snowbirds are still heading south this winter despite COVID-19 and a closed land border
Despite the U.S. having the world’s highest number of COVID-19 cases, Canadian snowbird Elizabeth Evans is determined to head south next month. That’s because her only winter home is parked at an RV resort in Williston, Florida.
“I don’t have a [winter] home here,” said Evans, who’s currently living in her summer trailer at a campground in Niagara Falls. “I don’t have any winter clothes.”
Evans is one of a number of snowbirds set on going to the U.S. this winter, despite the ongoing pandemic. But getting there may not be easy: To help stop the spread of COVID-19, the Canada-U.S. land border remains closed to non-essential traffic until at least Oct. 21.
Evans believes the closure will be extended, so she plans to fly to Florida on Oct. 30 — two days before the campground where she’s living closes for the season.
“There’s no way I am staying here,” she said. “Even if I had to get on the plane buck-naked, I’d be on it.”
The Canadian Snowbird Association — which has more than 110,000 members — said it’s hard to gauge at this point what percentage of its members will actually head south this winter.
Some snowbirds have already nixed their plans, while others are undecided.
“A significant portion of them are in a holding pattern, just to see what shakes out at the land border,” said spokesperson Evan Rachkovsky.
WATCH | Alberta snowbirds planning to spend winter at home:
Some experts predict the Canada-U.S. land border could stay closed to non-essential travel until the new year.
Although Canadians can still fly to the U.S., Rachkovsky said many snowbirds won’t go without their cars but can’t afford the big fees — between $1,500 and $6,000 — to ship their vehicles.
“It’s not really an option for some of them to fly.”
Evans is one of those who would typically drive down to the U.S., which allowed her to transport her household supplies in her truck. She said she’s can’t ship her truck packed with luggage, so this year she’s leaving it behind, along with many household necessities.
But she’s still bent on going to the U.S., even as health experts warn of a possible surge of COVID-19 cases in the fall.
Evans said she plans to take precautionary measures such as social distancing and keep to her RV resort.
“I will take the risk because I know how to protect myself, and everybody — at least in my resort — follows the rules,” she said. “I’m more concerned about falling off my bicycle than I am of COVID.”
Escape winter while isolating
Travel insurance broker Martin Firestone said so far less than 10 per cent of his snowbird clients have made firm plans to go south this winter. He said those who are going say they will aim to avoid crowds, just as they would in Canada during the pandemic.
“They’re going to be prisoners in their developments or their condos,” said Firestone, with Travel Secure in Toronto. “They’re saying, ‘I guess I’d rather sit down in Florida than sit here in Ontario and face the harsh climate.'”
That about sums up Perry Cohen’s itinerary. The snowbird — who is one of Firestone’s clients — aims to head to his condo in Deerfield Beach, Fla., in early December as long as the COVID-19 case count remains low in that area.
Cohen, who lives in Toronto, said he plans to take the necessary precautions and stick to his gated community — all while enjoying the warm weather.
“Why would I want to be cooped up here when I can be there, out in the sunshine, in the fresh air?” he said. “You have more positives to go than to stay here.”
Cohen also plans to fly to Florida and has a car parked at his condo. He said an added reassurance for him is that he can now purchase COVID-19 medical insurance — just in case he or his wife did get the virus.
“I like a complete package to know I’m looked after [if], God forbid, I have a problem.”
COVID-19 medical coverage returns
Several travel insurance providers recently restarted selling COVID-19 medical coverage, after dropping it in March when the pandemic began its global spread
Firestone said that even with the coverage, snowbirds could face problems if the community where they’re living has an outbreak.
“The hospitals will get filled, the intensive care units will get filled, and then the fun will begin, regardless of whether you have insurance or not.”
Cohen argues Canada could also experience overrun hospitals. Currently, COVID-19 case numbers are surging in Ontario and Quebec.
“You take a chance and go, because we can have the same problem here.”
Oil Prices Under Pressure As Gasoline Inventories Climb
The American Petroleum Institute (API) reported on Tuesday a draw in crude oil inventories of 831,000 barrels for the week ending September 25 – but this draw was more than offset by a build in gasoline inventories.
Analysts had predicted an inventory draw of 2.325-million barrels.
In the previous week, the API reported a small build in crude oil inventories of 691,000 barrels, after analysts had predicted a draw of 2.256 million barrels.
Oil prices were trading down sharply on Tuesday afternoon before the API’s data release as the market continues to be spooked by the rising number of coronavirus cases around the world – a factor that could lead to decreased movements and industrial activity around the world, and ultimately, to decreased oil demand.
In the hours leading up to Tuesday’s data release, at 12:44 pm EDT, WTI had fallen by $2.00 (-4.93%) to $38.60, down $1 per barrel on the week. The Brent crude benchmark had fallen by $1.82 at that time (-4.29%) to $40.61.
Oil production in the United States fell during the last week, and it is still down significantly from a high of 13.1 million bpd on March 13. U.S. oil production currently sits at 10.7 million bpd, according to the Energy Information Administration – 2.4 million bpd under those March highs.
The API reported a build in gasoline inventories of 1.623 million barrels of gasoline for the week ending September 25 – compared to the previous week’s 7.735-million-barrel draw. Analysts had expected a much smaller 648,000-barrel draw for the week.
Distillate inventories were down by 3.424 million barrels for the week, compared to last week’s 2.104-million-barrel draw, while Cushing inventories rose by 1.610 million barrels.
At 4:36 pm EDT, the WTI benchmark was trading at $38.99 while Brent crude was trading at $40.76.
COVID-19 on flights: More trips added to B.C.’s exposure warning list
Several more flights have been added to B.C.’s COVID-19 exposure list, with passengers being warned they should self-monitor for symptoms of the disease.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control posted details about the latest flights Monday evening. All four are domestic and either departed from or landed at Vancouver International Airport.
The flights most recently added to the BCCDC’s list are:
- Sept. 18 – Air Canada flight 122 from Vancouver to Toronto (rows 13 to 19)
- Sept. 19 – Air Canada flight 303 from Montreal to Vancouver (rows four to eight)
- Sept. 22 – Air Canada flight 304 from Vancouver to Montreal (rows 22 to 28)
- Sept. 24 – Air Canada flight 123 from Toronto to Vancouver (rows 20 to 24)
Passengers seated in the specified rows may be at a greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus, the BCCDC says.
More than 50 flights have been added to the BCCDC’s exposure warning list so far this month. Last week, Health Canada said there was no confirmed COVID-19 transmission on domestic flights within Canada, or on international flights to or from Canada.
Health officials in B.C. no longer directly contact people who were seated near someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Instead, health authorities post notices online about flights with confirmed cases.
Source: – CTV News Vancouver
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