The coronavirus pandemic has caused a paradigm shift in our behaviour, and how we work & communicate. Many people are now working online and are relying on the internet for information, answers about the pandemic and everything else.
Much of the world’s population is either in self-isolation or in lockdown bound to their homes. Businesses activities involving close contact of people have been closed or banned temporarily, hence searching for online job opportunities makes sense for most now.
Working from home has become a new norm, and converting your business to an online model has become a necessity.
Since many people are now using the internet as their main medium of communication and information, scammers are finding this to be a unique opportunity, and they are creating new types of scam ideas and schemes relating to the coronavirus to take advantage of fear and lack of proper knowledge among the masses.
The reason scams are working more now is due to the behavioural change of people, who are now using the internet for most of their activities.
Many new users have never heard of online scams, so it is far easier for scammers to target and cheat the unaware, and often most vulnerable are the older generation.
So, it is important to stay vigilant while browsing and looking for information online.
Here are the most common scams that are doing the rounds these days along with tips on how to protect yourself.
Fake Emails, Calls, and Messages
This is the most common technique that scammers use to find potential targets. Google has reported that they are blocking 18 million coronavirus scam emails every day.
Fake communication via email or SMS or VOIP call is very easy if you are not careful enough.
These fake messages will usually “make a promise in return for certain personal information or try to exploit your fear so you would be forced to act according to them”.
They might appear to come from a genuine source at first glance, but they are not – and may ask you to do stuff like download malicious apps, buy something, or fill in personal, sensitive information.
For example, you may be promised a work from home job and you will be asked for your bank account details so that they can deposit money.
These communications are mostly from an unknown source disguised as from your bank or government or some big brand.
You should always be extremely cautious while responding & acting to such emails, calls, or messages. Never share your personal information or any sensitive information with anyone online. Your bank or government or big brand won’t ask for such information from anyone.
Furthermore, you may be asked to forward the emails or messages to other people.
Do not share such communications with your contacts, since this will allow the scam to spread and target more people. Instead, you should report suspicious messages and emails to the authorities.
Fake COVID-19 Websites and Apps
The internet and social media is flooded with lots of misinformation and fake news – it is difficult for most to differentiate between real and fake as they often claim to cite genuine sources but in reality, they are not.
Since the coronavirus has started spreading, many fake websites and apps promising helpful information regarding the virus and how to cure & prevent it have increased.
There has been a growth of many fake websites spreading misinformation regarding the coronavirus, that normally try to ask for your personal information or sell a fake product.
For official statistics & information on coronavirus in South Africa, you should only trust reputable sources, the government’s portal (sacoronavirus.co.za), or WHO.
With regard to independent sources – one important check is to find the age of the website and its owner which must be a reliable, trusted source.
Use extreme caution & don’t easily trust information on any website or app unless it is from a genuine source. Don’t buy any products from unknown e-commerce websites and sellers, or share any personal information with such websites or apps.
Investment Scams: Fake Investment Schemes and Trading Advice
The FSCA has reported that many scammers & fake brokers are using this pandemic situation to misinform the general public, such as saying “this is the best time to start trading in forex” & other crypto-assets.
These scammers often use social media & other marketing channels to promote investment schemes that are normally too good to be true.
“You should reject advice or offers that appear out of nowhere. If you are looking to invest, then always do so with FSCA regulated entities. Check whether the broker is appropriately licensed for offering derivatives – by doing a public search on the FSCA website,” said Forex Brokers, a local FX website.
“Many forex & CFD brokers will say that they are licensed by FSCA, even though they may only hold a basic advisory license & are not approved to offer CFDs or derivative products under ODP license.”
“Check the ‘products approved’ category in the FSCA’s search to see whether the broker in question has the required license for that asset class. Only invest or trade through regulated brokers and do not blindly follow advice. Use your own knowledge and research to conduct any investment-related activity”.
Bold cyberattacks are becoming more common in such times. Recently, global IT company Cognizant was the victim of a ransomware attack.
In a ransomware attack, hackers take control of the data of an organisation and only release them on the payment of hefty sums.
Cyberattacks may also use malicious viruses & scripts to target your system and stop it from functioning. They can steal your intellectual property or data or personal sensitive information.
“Mostly these attackers target unsuspecting businesses by sending fake emails that have malicious attachments – which would infect your device if you download & open that attachment. And in times like these, they put users even more at risk.”
Another target method is to infect devices via infected websites that have clickbaits – if you visit any such website then your device could be at risk of getting infected.
Mostly, the target of these attacks are senior employees or executives of business.
“You should always be careful of which links you click & the websites that you visit when browsing online. Do not click on suspicious links. Try to only browse trusted websites and only open communications from valid known sources.”
Scammers may attempt to blackmail you using personal or sensitive information.
They may say that they are in possession of potentially damaging information, and ask you for a ransom in return for destroying or not using that information.
You should not give in to such blackmailers.
Do not hesitate to call the authorities who have experience in dealing with such scammers. In many cases, the blackmailers do not have any actual information or just enough information to make you believe that they know certain information.
Money Mule Scams
If you work from home, you may be approached by someone mostly via anonymous email to work for them and earn handsomely.
They may tell you they are a wealthy person who wants to move their money out from some country & they need your assistance in return for some share for you. Some may also offer to give you a donation or advance job money and tell you to move a share of money to someone.
In such a scam, the scammer will actually be in possession of stolen money and they ask you to transfer it to a different bank account. This is a way of money laundering.
Do not be a part of such scams. They may obtain damaging information about you and blackmail you with it.
Identity Theft to Collect Social Security
Governments around the world are offering social security benefits in such troubled times. Scammers are attempting to steal your identity or impersonate you so that they can collect benefits that are due to you.
To prevent being a victim of such a scam, never share your personal information with anyone.
Do not enter your personal information on websites that can be fake. Do not download apps that are not trustworthy.
Data Scraping & Fake Forms
These scams normally ask you to fill in your personal or sensitive information and then use it to log in to your email accounts or even bank accounts.
“Never share your net banking information with anyone under any pretext. Do not share passwords or fill forms that seem to be asking for too much information.”
You may come across these forms on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Be wary while browsing and never fill any sensitive information on such forms or any website.
How to Protect Yourself?
Most online scams are done by making users believe that information or message they are seeing is trusted and coercing them to act. These scams are subtle, and you never know when you can get sucked in. Even the most careful are susceptible to such scams as we ignore something.
Almost all the above scams are working because people are not as diligent online as they would be at any other times.
Even though these scams may appear unique & undetectable, they are still the same old tricks of scammers – exploiting unawareness, fear, and anxiety.
So, carefully look for suspicious signs and protect yourself by educating yourself and everyone around you.
Spend some time finding out about such scams so that you can identify them more easily, and are less likely to get scammed.
Remember, almost all scams rely on you to provide certain information or to click on a dangerous link. Always be careful of the information that you’re filling in or providing online and never click on suspicious links.
If you suddenly get notified that you’ve won a luxury holiday, you should know that it’s a scam.
Educate your friends, family & colleagues about this – tell them how they can spot the difference between genuine & fake information. Spreading education on this front will help everyone protect themselves.
There is a great need to spread this information so that future would-be victims can wisen up.
Always be on the lookout, and stay safe.
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