Scammers have been busy during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Better Business Bureau has compiled a list of the top scams from March 1 to May 31, 2020. (Photo credit: BBB)

Pandemic scams costing Canadian consumers cold hard cash

Many scams are doing the rounds, from puppies and free government grants to fake employment offers

Scammers have been busy during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Better Business Bureau now knows what scams have been most prevalent during the pandemic and how much Canadians lost to them between March 1 and May 31, 2020.

Home improvement scams take the number one spot, with Canadians reporting losses of more than $50,000 in a three-month span. Be wary of high-pressure sales tactics, a price that’s too good to be true, or an unrealistic time frame. Con artists will take homeowners’ money and deliver substandard work, or do no work at all.

Once started, a rogue contractor may “find” issues that significantly raise the price. If you object, they threaten to walk away and leave a half-finished project. They may accept your upfront deposit and then never return to do the job.

Say no to cash-only deals, high-pressure sales tactics, high upfront payments, handshake deals without a contract, and on-site inspections. Always get a written contract where the price, materials, the responsibilities of all parties, and the timeline for the job are clearly stated. Always ask for references and check them out.

Puppy scams are the second most frequent scam reported during the pandemic, with losses of more than $20,000 reported. Many people who have been working from home or self-isolating have decided that they want the companionship of a dog or that it’s an ideal time to bring a canine companion into the home, but they often come across fraudulent online ads for puppies that do not exist or are never shipped.

Victims are often told that they need to send money for special crates, insurance, and a (non-existent) COVID-19 vaccine. There were also several instances where the consumer wanted to see or pick up the animal but was told that was not possible due to COVID-19 restrictions.

If you are looking to add a furry friend to your family, start by contacting a local shelter. If you are looking for a purebred animal, contact a local breeder, so you can ensure that the puppy actually exists. Try not to buy a pet without seeing it in person, and do not send money by Western Union, MoneyGram, or through cash apps and gift cards.

Consumers should be on the lookout for advance fee loan scams, where you receive an email or phone call, or see a flyer or online ad, offering you a great deal on a car, mortgage, payday, or other type of loan. This scam has cost Canadians a reported $20,000 from March to May, 2020.

The catch is that there is some kind of upfront fee, such as a “processing fee” or insurance to get the loan or to lock in the low interest rate. Once you hand over the payment, the “lender” vanishes along with the money.

Requiring advance fees for loans is illegal in Canada. Walk away from any loan offer with vague or unclear fees that are charged before you get the money. There are often fees charged for loans such as application fees, appraisals, and credit report fees, and a real lender will post those fees prominently.

Legitimate lenders never guarantee a loan in advance, will never ask you to pay an upfront fee, and will not ask for these “fees” to be paid via unusual methods such as iTunes gift cards. Walk away from any offer that comes with guarantees and/or requires unusual payment methods.

Fake government grants have cost Canadians more than $12,000. Several government programs offering benefits or assistance during the pandemic have been announced, and are legitimate, but scammers are also promising free money in the form of a government grant; all you have to do is pay a one-time processing fee.

While legitimate government grants require you to reach out and apply, scammers typically contact victims by phone, email, and posts on social media, stating that the government is awarding “free grants”. You are told that your application is guaranteed to be accepted, and you will never have to repay the money. However, many victims report that other fees will inevitably follow, and they may all seem very official. Whatever the story, one thing is certain; you will never see the money you were promised.

Free money does not come easy. Obtaining a government grant is an involved process, and one where the grant seeker pursues the funds, not the other way around. If someone is actively soliciting you to give you money, this is a clear red flag that you are dealing with an imposter.

Do not pay any money for a “free” government grant. If you have to pay money, it isn’t free. A real government agency will not ask you to pay an advance processing fee.

Many people have been shopping online during the pandemic, and online shopping scams have cost Canadians $6,000. Many of the companies and sites people are using were created in the last two or three months by fraudulent retailers who are targeting consumers who are stuck at home. After the order is placed, consumers are left with either a cheap knock-off or with nothing at all.

Before entering any personal or financial information on a website, ensure the site is secure. Check that the URL (web address) starts with “https://” and includes a lock icon on the purchase or shopping cart page. Make sure the site is legitimate, since many fraudsters will create a fake site to mimic a famous retailer’s website.

Employment scams have cost Canadians nearly $6,000, and are targeting the thousands of people who have lost their jobs through business closures or downscaling and who are looking for temporary or flexible employment.

If you’re looking for a job, be wary of positions that do not require special training, or a job offer that does not come with an interview request: a real company will want to talk to you before hiring. Look online: if the job comes up in other cities with the same post, it is likely a scam.

Do not fall for an overpayment scam. No legitimate job would ever overpay an employee and ask for money to be wired elsewhere. Also be careful if a company promises you great opportunities or big income as long as you pay for coaching, training, certifications, or directories.

If you have spotted a scam, even if you have not lost any money, report it to Your report can prevent others from being victimized.

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