The Darth Vader of diseases – COVID-19 – has led us to isolation and spending more time online but beware as hackers will use anything for their personal gain and this situation is no exception. With people desperate to get their hands on information and products, there's a higher chance of falling for a scam.
Phishing scams and Malware are two of the main ways you can be preyed upon digitally, with the aim being to obtain your data and money. Phishing involves fraudulent attempts of tricking, lying and manipulating people into handing over sensitive information (such as usernames, passwords and credit card details), whilst malware software creates havoc on computers and servers (through viruses, worms, Trojan horses and ransomware).
Scams and malware can come to you via –
In these trying times of the Coronavirus pandemic, there have been reports of the following –
Emails and phone calls from people impersonating different entities, such as the World Health Organisation, government authorities and legitimate businesses (that include travel agencies and telecommunications companies), for various purposes
Products claiming to be a cure or vaccine for COVID-19
Investment scams claiming Coronavirus has created opportunities
Fake shopping sites and fake charities
Information and services being offered to the public that are filled with malware, such as Coronavirus maps that allow you to track the pandemic and in the process, they generate malicious files and install them on your computer in order to steal info stored in your browser
Some scams are so convincing and can even suck in the most diligent and security-conscious of us out there, as well as those that think they are tech-savvy. You might think you are smart but scammers are smarter. This is their job, their living. They spend all day looking at new ways of pulling in the unsuspecting, both locally and internationally.
How to Protect Yourself
The below list is applicable, regardless of the current Coronavirus pandemic –
Email is the #1 delivery system for all malware. Don't click on links or attachments from sources you don't know as they could contain all sorts of malicious threats.
Phishing emails can be spotted by their poor spelling, grammar and vagueness, as well as subject and sender being in different fonts and colours to your usual emails.
Never give out account and credit card details via email or phone as even if the sender is legitimate, you could be hacked by someone else using spyware, etc.
If you receive a suspect email or an email from an unknown sender, hover your mouse over the sender name to see the URL address behind it. You might think at first sight that the email is coming from a reputable company but when you look at the URL, it may not be from that company at all. A company URL usually ends in @xxxxxx. com.yy, where x is the company name and y is the web country code. If the URL has unusual numbers and letters/names in it, then block it. Do not open the email.
Change your passwords regularly and make them different on each application/site you use. Whilst it is easier to have the same password for everything (for the sake of remembering it), it also makes it easier for hackers to use the password gained from one site to cause havoc and gather more information on another site.
When you sign into a site and a pop-up window asks you to save your password for future ease, don't.
Try to use large reputable websites, especially when spending money, that show https before the URL (instead of just http) as the s means it is secure.
Be careful of shopping sites requesting unusual payment methods, such as upfront payment by money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, preloaded card and electronic currency (like Bitcoin).
Detect a fake trader or shopping scam by searching for reviews prior to purchasing.
Don't let anyone pressure you into quick decisions. Take the time to find out who you are dealing with.
If you are donating to a charity, ensure it is registered and that you are on its official website.
Buy anti-malware/virus protection software for your home computer. Many companies sell it and you need to do your homework to work out the best one for you, depending on what you use your computer for. Compare prices and inclusions. Some well-known brands include AVG, Scanguard, Norton and Total AV.
Check your settings on your social media platforms from time to time and limit information. Instead of entering your full date of birth on Facebook, just enter the date and month. This still allows notification to friends of your upcoming birthday but does not give away your age. The less information visible, the better. Don't make it easy for someone to steal your identity.
Be careful of what you post online. I've seen people post mobile phone numbers. Don't do it. Hackers hack not just one system, they hack multiple sites to get all the details they need to launch their attack/scam.
Beware of fake and duplicate profiles on Facebook. If you receive a friend request for someone you already have as a friend then something is likely not right. View the profile first and check by other means with the person to see if they created the new profile. Don't just blindly accept the friend request.
Turn off tracking devices, such as location services in your Smartphone. Only use them with apps that you really need them for, while you are using the app.
Don't use public Wi-Fi without using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Use your phone network if you don't have a VPN.
If you want information on travel bans and health, go directly to government websites – smartraveller.gov.au, health.gov.au, etc.
If you think you have been scammed, then report it via Scamwatch. It's a government website and your report goes to the Australian Competition & Consumer Association (ACCC). Your report helps the ACCC to warn the community about the latest scams. Report it to the police as well and your bank if money is involved.
Cybercrime has many faces so keep your software up to date, use anti-virus protection and firewall, use strong passwords, use multi-factor authentication on login where available (like a netcode sent to your mobile), hover over a link to see where it directs you, review privacy settings on social media regularly and perform regular backups on at least two different types of media (iCloud and external hard drive or USB).
Thanks, Irenke. Some timely advice! I think we also have to be aware of fake news being created about CoVid-19. Be very vigilant and observant. So difficult when there are many conflicting reports by â€śexpertsâ€ť and mainstream media.