Scammers take advantage of virus lockdown

Bogus home-improvements and puppy scams are leading the list of ripoffs during the pandemic, says the Better Business Bureau of Vancouver Island.

Canadians reported losses of more than $52,000 to home-improvement scams during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown from March 1 to May 31, according to the BBB’s Scam Tracker, which logs complaints from the public, but doesn’t supply regional breakdowns.

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Scammers tried to take advantage of the stressful times when people were self-isolating, said the BBB, which could explain the increase in puppy scams.

The tracker found a reported $21,820 in losses from people trying to find a new pet. In many of the reports to the BBB Scam Tracker, victims came across fake advertisements on fraudulent websites for puppies that did not exist or belonged to other owners and were never shipped.

Victims were often told that they needed to send money for special climate-controlled crates, insurance and a non-existent COVID-19 vaccine.

There were several instances in which the consumer wanted to see or pick up the animal, but was told that was not possible due to pandemic restrictions.

The BBB suggests if you want a pet, start by contacting a local shelter, as many are looking for foster situations to reduce overcrowding at their facilities, or shop with local breeders.

Home-improvement scams usually start with a knock on the door, a flyer or an ad offering a low price or a short turnaround on projects.

The BBB warned that scammers will take homeowners’ money and deliver substandard work, or no work at all. One common hook is when the scammer claims that he is working in your neighbourhood on another project and has leftover supplies.

Once started, a rogue contractor may “find” issues that significantly raise the price. The BBB suggests declining cash-only and no-contract deals, and asking for references.

Other major scams making the rounds during the pandemic have been advance-fee loans, in which Canadians reported more than $20,000 in losses. Such offers are usually through emails, phone calls or online ads for great deals on a car, mortgage, payday or other type of loan. 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.

Fake government grants accounted for $12,550 in reported losses. The scam promises free money in the form of a government grant, in return for a one-time processing fee. Scammers typically contact victims by phone, email and posts on social media.

Online purchase scams were also prominent, including pop-up ads with enticing gadgets. The BBB said many of these companies are fraudulent retailers, with websites created in the past few months, targeting consumers stuck at home.

With thousands of people job- hunting, the BBB said employment scams are making the rounds. The ads may be disguised as a great new career with flexibility, especially for jobseekers with children, but victims might only be giving away personal information or money to scammers.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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