Scammers have targeted people in the Northwest Territories looking for relief in the midst of wildfire evacuations that have affected more than two-thirds of the population.
According to CTV News around 68 per cent of the population in the Northwest Territories is currently being evacuated, with some government programs in place to assist displaced people.
The NWT government currently offers seven different relief programs, including a one-time benefit of $750 for residents whose employment has been impacted due to being evacuated for more than one week. The program is called the Evacuee Income Disruption Support Program. The other programs by the NWT also focus on business relief, income assistance and child-care support.
No such thing as 'Canada Relief Fund'
In their statement issued on Aug. 27, the Northwest Territories RCMP advised locals that any inquiries for assistance with wildfire evacuation are probably a scam unless they have already applied for benefits.
The RCMP warns that scammers might make reference to a "Canada Relief Fund," but no such thing exists, or pretend to be from the Canada Revenue Agency.
"Residents are encouraged not to click on the link or provide any personal information in response to these messages," the RCMP warns. "Clicking on links in text messages from unknown sources can potentially expose cell phone users to inadvertently downloading malicious software that can compromise your personal information."
"Residents are reminded that all benefits that relate to wildfire evacuation relief or support, require you to apply for them. If you have not applied for financial support from a specific agency but then receive unsolicited correspondence, it is likely a scam."
Residents are encouraged not to click on the link or provide any personal information in response to these messages.RCMP
'If it's too good to be true'
“This is the typical time that these guys will make a push to try to deceive because people are generally thinking of other things,” says Vittorio Romani, the president of Green Bee 3, a technology strategy and management company in Canada.
“If it is too good to be true then you need to take a step back and really take your time before you are giving out any kind of financial information or sending any personal information of any sort,” Romani says.
How do you recognize a scam?
“If it's coming from a source that you're not familiar with or if the communication is out of context, meaning you have not asked for it, those are usually the best signs of a scam,” says Ali Dehghantanha, a professor of cybersecurity at the University of Guelph.
“Cyber criminals are quite opportunistic. Thinking twice about every message that you get could help a lot in avoiding many of these attacks.”
Dehghantanha warns that scammers could include links to websites or forms in their communications. They are hoping to get their victims to click on them or "install something (on their devices) that could give them remote access."
Charity scams and how to avoid them
Charity scams are when scammers attempt to collect money pretending to be a real charity, according to the Little Black Book of Scams, a guide provided by the federal government to protect citizens against fraud.
Not only do these scammers cost people money, but they also take away donations from legitimate organizations that provide relief.
“I always recommend that donations to actual charities should be done on their websites and not through emails or links,” Dehghantanha says. “At the same time, I'm advising charities that they never include a donation link in their email because that's the playbook that the attackers are able to follow as well.”
Scammers may try to pressure you into giving donations and may refuse to give you any details about the charity, such as their address or contact information.
Fortunately for Canadians who want to donate money to an organization, the CRA has a searchable database of all registered charities. This can help tell the real organizations from ones made up by would-be scammers.
“The idea is to recognize the fraud and take action before anything bad happens. It's very unfortunate that these guys are taking a bad situation and making it worse,” Romani says. He is also encouraging people to report to the police if they suspect fraudulent activity.