NORTH BAY -- Experts say the 17th annual fraud prevention month is highlighting new scams that have come to the surface during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every year there’s generally a different theme,” said Const. John Schultz, community safety coordinator with the North Bay Police Service. “I believe (the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre) is really concentrating on the online frauds this year because of the COVID pandemic.”

Experts say fraud is a growing issue across Canada, with thousands of victims each year.

“In Canada, we had over 100,000 reports received last year … at the anti-fraud centre of scams, transiting Canada or affecting Canadians, with nearly $160 million in losses,” said Jeff Thomson with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Between March 6, 2020, and the end of January, there have been a number of scams specifically related to COVID-19.

“As of the end of January, we were close to 11,000 or 11,500 reports with just over $7 million in reported loses,” said Thomson.

Not really a surprise

However, these new scams aren’t really a surprise.

“These scammers, they twist everything,” said Schultz. "We’ve had a couple of people … this week that received phone calls, and they’re doing a twist on the COVID pandemic with the vaccines becoming available.

"The scammers are calling people and telling them they have to reserve for their vaccine needles and the way they reserve is by supplying their social insurance number, their card number, as well as verifying it with their VISA card or credit card of some sort.”

A North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit new release Feb. 26 highlighted the district's plan for vaccines, including the fact the health unit does not contact individuals to book appointments.

Officials said talking about it and reporting fraud and scam calls is the best thing for people to do.

“If you’re getting a call, an email, whatever, take five minutes and think about it,” said Schultz. “Why is this person contacting me and does this make sense that they’re, for instance, asking for my social insurance number for a COVID vaccine, which is a health-related issue. It has nothing to do with finances.”

He said the big thing is to take five minutes to think it through, and then tell at least two people what happened to help educate others.

Merchandise scams

“Merchandise scams have also been very prominent,” said Thomson, since so many people are shopping online now.

He said a good example is people buying hair clippers, with salons being closed, but never receiving the item they purchase.

Schultz said it's a problem and they are receiving lots of calls about in the North Bay area.

“Just use your search engines,” he said. “Say you’re buying stuff on Kijiji or any of the other online ads, run their phone numbers, run their email addresses, run their names that they’re using and then you can run it with the word fraud after it, you can run it with scam after it.

"Try a couple different things. It only takes a couple minutes, but it’s for your safety because if they’re asking you to wire money, as soon as you click that enter button, your money is gone.”

Last year, North Bay Police Service responded to 239 fraud calls and about $500,000 was lost by people in North Bay and the Callander area.