(Black Press Media file photo)

Victoria police warns of text, vacation rental COVID-19 fraud attempts

Frauds appearing online, in text messages and through vacation rentals

Victoria police investigators are warning the public about COVID-19 related frauds after several have been reported in the community.

A statement from VicPD says the frauds fall into two main types: online frauds and a hybrid online/vacation rental fraud.

Police said the online ones use the fear of COVID-19-related financial impacts to get people’s attention. They then direct their potential victims to click on links that compromise their personal and financial information.

On March 26, Finance Canada and the Prime Minister’s Office tweeted a scam alert about a text message that was circulation across the country. The text message claims the potential victim received a deposit for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, but is a scam. Those who receive the text are asked to not click the link and delete it instead as well as warn others.

READ ALSO: Victoria police department warns of coronavirus-related fraud attempts

VicPD said e-mail COVID-19 frauds are also circulating in which scammers claim to be representatives of a major Canadian bank. The e-mail asks people to open an attached document which leads to malware and fraud risk. Police said the e-mail even tries to come off as coming from an actual representative – who shows up in Google search results – from the financial service institution.

“This clever addition to this type of scam creates an undue sense of legitimacy,” VicPD said.

Those who receive the e-mail are asked to not open the document, delete the e-mail and warn others.

As for the online/vacation rental fraud, VicPD said officers were called by an agent who rents AirBnB units to report that a renter booked an AirBnB, but upon sign-in to the unit, cancelled the booking citing COVID-19. The popular rental website currently offers full refunds for some bookings that cite COVID-19 as a reason for cancellation.

The renter cancelled the booking, received a full refund and then continued to stay in the unit. Police said when the agent went to check on the unit, he found the renter had also stolen several items including the television, stereo and toilet paper. AirBnB operators are advised to make sure they are up to date with the company’s policies and to review VicPD recommendations on keeping short-term vacation rentals crime free. The VicPD recommendations can be found at vicpd.ca/2019/02/28/keep-your-airbnb-rental-crime-free/.

READ ALSO: Victoria Police see new trends in calls due to COVID-19

VicPD said one of the best ways to avoid becoming a fraud victim is to connect with someone you trust to talk about the suspicious message.

“When you receive a text, e-mail or other electronic message from someone you don’t know or that you weren’t expecting which asks you to visit a website, click on a link or open a document, pause,” VicPD said. “Don’t open it until you’ve spoken with someone you trust about it.”

When in doubt, don’t click the link, VicPD said.

For more information on how to avoid being a fraud victim, visit vicpd.ca/working-together/protect-yourself/#fraud.

Anyone with information about the AirBnB incident who has not yet spoken to investigators is asked to call the VicPD non-emergency line at 250-995-7654 or anonymously call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

shalu.mehta@blackpress.ca


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