Rights & Money

Seniors Targeted in COVID-19 Relief Scam

Fraudsters have been charging seniors for help with Emergency Response Benefit applications

By Erika Morris


Vancouver seniors are being targeted in a scam in which a third party collects fees for helping them apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), a benefit for which many of the victims don’t qualify in the first place.

In one case, a woman going by the name Joanne put ads on Craigslist claiming she could help people get thousands of dollars in undisclosed government benefits for a fee and specifically targeted seniors. Joanne collected the victims’ social insurance numbers, banking information, and other personal details to sign them up for CERB funds.

Seniors are paying up to $800 for Joanne’s services without realizing which benefit they’re applying for or being aware that they might not qualify. Not only are they putting their private information at risk, but they often don’t realize that they’ll have to pay tax on the money, may have to pay the money back, and could be jeopardizing their Guaranteed Income Supplement benefit.

To qualify for CERB, people must have earned a minimum of $5,000 in the last year and make less than $1,000 a month while receiving it. The government has said that if those wrongly given CERB benefits will be informed that they owe money at a later date, as with taxes. People can apply for CERB online or by phone for free.

Vancouver NDP MP Don Davies has been appealing to Ottawa to make it explicitly illegal for third parties to collect fees in exchange for benefit application assistance. Davies cautions that if it’s happening in Vancouver, there are probably similar scams around the country.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has a web page dedicated to reported scams pertaining to the coronavirus with tips and helplines. According to the Centre’s figures, Canadians lost $1.8 million to COVID-19 fraud between March 6, 2020, and May 25.

Photo: iStock/Andranik Hakobyan.