Canadians lose $8M in COVID scams as U.S. cracks down on ‘trusted medical professionals’

One scam in Canada comes as an email saying the recipients are now eligible to collect from the ‘Vaccine Relief Fund’

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The United States cracked down on COVID-related fraud on Wednesday, charging 21 defendants who have allegedly cost the country a total of US$149 million.

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In Canada, by comparison, almost 29,000 people have fallen victim to similar scams and have lost $8.15 million since the pandemic began until Feb. 28, says the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC).

The U.S. charges range from “COVID-19-related false billings to federal programs, and theft from federally funded pandemic assistance programs,” the Department of Justice said in a statement.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have seen trusted medical professionals orchestrate and carry out egregious crimes against their patients all for financial gain,” said the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division assistant director Luis Quesada. “These health care fraud abuses erode the integrity and trust patients have with those in the health care industry, particularly during a vulnerable and worrisome time for many individuals.”

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Among the criminal activity the DOJ uncovered was the making and distributing of fake vaccine cards. One person told an undercover federal agent that they would be “taking the money” until they “get caught and go to jail.”

“Ha! I don’t care,” they added.

Another scheme involving some of the American defendants charged on Wednesday included allegedly getting people to submit personal information as well as a blood or saliva sample. The information was then used to “submit false and fraudulent claims to Medicare for unrelated, medically unnecessary, and far more expensive tests or services.”

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Other schemes involved using the confidential information of patients who wanted COVID-19 tests to make fraudulent claims. The DOJ also alleged that the money from some of these schemes was laundered through shell companies in the U.S., transferred to foreign countries, or spent on luxury items and real estate.

Two owners of a health clinic in California were charged after more than $125 million was claimed fraudulently for COVID-19 and respiratory pathogen tests over the course of the pandemic, the DOJ said.

COVID-related fraud makes up around 10 percent of all fraud in Canada, which amounts to $75.5 million so far this year as of Feb. 28.

The specific number of criminal charges of COVID-related fraud across the country was not readily available.

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A CAFC web page has resources for Canadians along with a list of reported scams.

Most recently, texts and emails are being sent out from what appears to be the Ministry of Health, saying that a third COVID-19 vaccine dose was scheduled. If the link is clicked, malware — software designed to gain unauthorized access to your device — is downloaded  and can cause damage.

Another scam comes in the form of an email appearing to be from the Government of Canada. It indicates that Canadians are now eligible for a “Vaccine Relief Fund.” It prompts users to click on a link to claim the funds.

“The goal is to steal your personal and/or financial information, which can be used for identity fraud,” CAFC says.


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