VANCOUVER -- Online scams have been a growing problem over the years, but now, with so many people online because of COVID-19, police say cybercrime is booming. The RCMP says this year, Canadians have been defrauded out of more than $37 million in various online scams.

There are a number of different kinds of scams taking place, but almost all of them involve email, the internet or social media. There have been more than 15,000 complaints, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says, and more than 8,000 victims online. And everyone is being urged to be more cautious online.

There doesn’t seem to be anything off-limits for cybercriminals. This year they targeted cottage renters, with one family paying more that $3,000 to rent one that didn’t exist. 

Scammers also targeted people trying to buy pets online. That’s what happened to a Langley family earlier this year, when the adorable dachshund pup they’d found online didn’t show up at the Abbotsford airport, breaking their kids’ hearts. 

“I don’t believe there was ever a dog and I will never try to order a puppy online again,” mom Crystal King said at the time. “I’ll be buying local.”

Another man who tried to get a loan online was scammed out of $1,800. 

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says you can blame COVID-19 for the increase, and criminals getting more aggressive online. 

“Given the pandemic, more people at home, more people conducting business online, I’m seeing more and more online fraud activity,” says anti-fraud centre spokesperson Jeff Thomson. “It’s definitely a ripened environment for fraud right now.” 

Phishing -- emails or texts that appear legitimate but are linked to criminals -- continues to be part of the majority of cases.

And Thomson says extortion is also on the rise. 

“(People) are caught on camera performing an illicit act, or performing a personal act, and if they don’t pay money right away, the (scammers say) the video is going to be released to all your family members and friends.” 

McLaughlin On Your Side spoke to a woman last year who was nearly the victim of a similar extortion scam. Carole, whose last name we decided not to share, was contacted by someone who claimed to be named David Ghost. He revealed personal information from a previous data breach in an effort to convince her that her computer was infected with malware, and she needed to give him $1,200 in Bitcoin.

“I felt very vulnerable,” Carole said at the time. “I just panicked.” 

Another scam that’s sprung up – texts notifying people they’ve tested positive for COVID-19, then instructing them to follow instructions that direct them to phony websites and products for sale. 

Here are some ways you can protect yourself: 

  • Don’t click on emails you don’t recognize
  • Use anti-virus software
  • Make sure your browser is up to date
  • Don’t overshare personal information
  • Use strong passwords with letters and symbols.

With files from CTV News Toronto’s Pat Foran