Scams and Misinformation

Sometimes it is hard to tell what is true, misinformed or false when we hear information in the media (i.e. television, newspapers or radio) or on the phone, emails and text messages. Below are some tips and resources on how to identify and protect yourself from scams and misinformation.

On this page:

Scams

Some of the common scams taking place in Ottawa may include (but are not limited to):

  • People pretending to be public health or hospital employees, telling you that you have tested positive for COVID-19.

If you test positive for COVID-19, you will receive a call from Ottawa Public Health (OPH), to inform you of the positive test, or to inform you that you are a contact of someone who tested positive. If OPH calls, they will always explain who they are and the reason for calling. OPH will ask you to confirm your identity with your full name and date of birth before discussing personal health information. The OPH number will show up on your phone but sometimes the call will be from a ‘private number’. If you are uncomfortable answering a call from a ‘private number’, OPH will leave a voicemail, with a phone number, extension and a reference number. You can call that number back and leave your name, phone number and the reference number and a Case Manager will return your call.  Please note that public health officials will never ask you for money or for credit card information when calling you.

  • Companies selling fake COVID-19 tests, vaccines or unproven drugs and personal protective equipment (PPE). The only way to access safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines is through clinics organized or endorsed by your local public health authority in collaboration with Canada's federal, provincial and territorial governments.
  • Fake Hydro Ottawa threats to shut off your power.
  • Romance scams where scammers make contact with you online through email, fake social media accounts or dating sites and take time to earn your trust before requesting money.

Learn more about these and other scams by visiting the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and the Ottawa Police website.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has developed tips to help protect you from scammers. If you receive an email, text message or phone call from someone you do not know or that you think is fake, here are some things you can do:

  • Do not give out personal or financial information.
  • Do not be afraid to say no.
  • Do not feel pressured. Know you can always hang up the phone.
  • Do your research. Find out if the person or company is real.
  • Keep your computer and smartphone safe. Do not click on any links, pictures or documents from people you do not know. Delete them.
  • Be wary of appeals that tug on your heart strings, such as pleas involving patriotism or current events.

In addition, please be aware that:

  • You should not have to pay a fee to claim a prize or take out a loan.
  • Charitable donations are best made on a charity’s website—not over the phone.

You can contact the Ottawa Police Service, by completing a report online at the Ottawa Police website or by calling 613-236-1222, extension 7300 if you have provided personal information, but not lost any money.

Misinformation

Not everything you see, hear or read on the internet is real. We live in an information age where knowledge is always at the tip of our fingers, but what happens when this information is not accurate? Misinformation and disinformation can have severe and direct health impacts on our community.

Misinformation is when "incorrect or misleading information” is spread without the intention to mislead1. This kind of false information often happens by mistake. Through social media, misinformation spreads more broadly and quickly than ever before.

Disinformation is "false information deliberately and often covertly (secretly) spread (as by the planting of rumours) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth"2. This type of false information is more sinister and carries more weight. Disinformation is the spreading of misinformation with a purpose - often for political or economic gain.

Disinformation and misinformation can be a danger to your health and the health of those around you. When it comes to COVID-19, false information about cures, treatments and fake preventative measures can cause serious illness. Many people have already become ill or lost their lives due to misinformed health recommendations. 

Misinformation and disinformation can also cause long-term damage to our health system. The spread of false health information can decrease public trust in the health organizations working to limit and control the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s important that we use and share the best health information online from credible and trusted sources.  

Below is a list of verified and trusted health organizations that provide reliable and updated health information.

What can I do?

Learn how to protect yourself from misinformation and disinformation. Be careful about what you share since things online are not always what they seem. Just because you see something online, does not mean it is true. The internet is great but can also be used to spread misleading news and content. Protect yourself, your family and friends from misinformation. Use the checklists below to help you spot misinformation and to ensure you do not contribute to the spread of harmful content.

Checklist when reviewing new information

  • Ask yourself some questions:
    • Why is this person/organization/website posting this information?
    • What do they have to gain by sharing this information?
    • What is the source of this information? Where did it originally come from?
    • Is this a credible/reliable source?

Checklist before you like, comment or share content online

  • What is the source of this information? Where did it originally come from?
  • Read the full story, the headlines don’t often tell the full story.
  • Analyse the facts. If something sounds too good to be true or unbelievable, it might well be.
  • Watch out for misleading pictures and videos in stories for example about coronavirus vaccines. They may be edited or show unrelated places or events. Check to see who else is using the same photo or video.
  • Look for errors and mistakes. Typos and other errors might mean the information is false.

You can also use the following resources:

MediaSmarts – Break the fake campaign video - Break the Fake | MediaSmarts  How How to tell what's true online | Break the Fake - YouTube

Other Helpful Tools

Fact-checking websites

  • Snopes
    • An evidence-based source for fact checking urban legends, folklore, myths, rumours and misinformation.

Evaluation skills

  • CTRL-F - https://ctrl-f.ca/home/
    • CTRL-F, a project from Canadian non-profit CIVIX, is an extension of the SIFT Method (more below). The guide provides short videos and activities which can help you pick up three fundamental skills.
  • The SIFT Method - https://hapgood.us/2019/06/19/sift-the-four-moves/
    • The SIFT method by Mike Caulfield provides four quick moves you can do when evaluating an online source. Learn more about using the SIFT method to sort fact from fiction related to COVID-19 at Sifting Through the Coronavirus Pandemic ( https://infodemic.blog/).

We all need to do our part to limit the spread of misinformation online. It’s important to learn how to spot false information and report it. We can all make a difference.

References  

  1. Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Misinformation. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved November 23, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/misinformation 
  2. Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Disinformation. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved November 23, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/disinformation 
  3. WHO. Immunizing the public against misinformation. (2020). 

Contact Information

Provincial Vaccine Information Line

  • 7 days a week, from 8 am to 8 pm
  • Call if you have questions about Ontario's COVID-19 vaccination program.
  • Service is available in multiple languages.
  • Telephone: 1-888-999-6488
  • TTY: 1-866-797-0007

Ottawa Public Health COVID-19 Telephone Line

  • Monday to Friday, from 8 am to 4:30 pm
  • Weekends, from 9 am to 4 pm
  • Translation is available in multiple languages
  • Telephone: 613-580-6744 follow the prompts to the COVID-19 telephone line
  • TTY: 613-580-9656

Emergency Services

  • If you are in distress (e.g., significant trouble breathing, chest pain, fainting or have a significant worsening of any chronic disease symptoms), do not go to the Assessment Centre or a COVID-19 Care clinic. Go to the nearest Emergency Department or call 9-1-1.

See someone not respecting COVID-19 rules?

How to access help during COVID-19

  • 211 Ontario can help you find financial and social support during COVID-19
  • Telephone: 2-1-1

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