Covid and the Online Fraud Explosion – What You Need to Know to Keep Safe

It was inevitable that the predatory nature of fraudsters would result in them using the global Covid-19 pandemic to their advantage. If you’re wondering what kind of strategies are being used by criminals in 2024, read on. By keeping up to date with the latest Covid scams, you can ensure you remain vigilant and massively reduce your chance of becoming a victim.

Contactless transactions during the pandemic

Contactless and online payments were already becoming more commonplace before the pandemic. Covid-19 has further accelerated the growth of this trend. However, this change has stoked fears about cybersecurity risks. Even when transactions are encrypted, criminals may still be able to access payment details by hacking into databases. Over the years, it’s become worryingly common for consumers’ personal details to be leaked online, typically exploding the contact information of millions of people at a time. These contact lists are typically then sold for profit to other scammers as a mailing ‘hit list’. We recommend checking out to see if your email credentials (and potentially other information) have been leaked online.

Source: The New York Times

Impersonating businesses

Scammers also regularly pose as companies and organisations offering healthcare services and relief payments over the past year. They often do this by enticing their unsuspecting victims into clicking on bogus but authentic-looking links then asking them to enter their personal information. Short term loan company Wonga recently published useful guidelines to help you detect some common phishing strategies that brand impersonators will employ to dupe you out of your information and money.

Some scammers have even targeted the elderly by offering to do their shopping for them then requesting their bank details.There have also been big concerns about malware, with dangerous software being downloaded to computers after people click on links that appear to be perfectly safe.

Online retail growth

Criminals have specifically targeted those that are new to the world of online banking. The pandemic has forced many people to shop and manage finances, bill paying and pretty much all aspects of their financial planning online when they would normally buy products and visit banks in person.

Consumers are being advised to avoid saving their card details directly with online retailers even though this is massively convenient and can make future purchasing much simpler. It’s thought that around one-in-three people in the UK and other territories have been targeted by a coronavirus scammer and limiting the amount of information you store with third party services or retailers (no matter how secure and robust their defences may appear) will help protect you and your data in the long run.


Streaming services and fraud

More and more people have been using online streaming services to pass away the time at home. Criminals have also been impersonating brands like Netflix as part of phishing strategies. The sites that you are sent to can look just like the real thing, which is why it’s so important to check the URL to ensure it’s genuine. Another common tactic is for scammers to impersonate governments offering loans and grants to support businesses and individuals. Energy companies have also been impersonated, with criminals purporting to offer payment holidays and discounts. Again, this is normally a trick to source your personal information and card details.

Offline scams

Some scams are still being implemented offline, with criminals acting as high-profile companies and organisations over the phone. For many (especially the older generations) who are getting acclimated to the online world of spam and phishing emails often a legitimate sounding phone call can be their undoing as they do not expect such a direct and bold attempt by a fraudster.

Unfortunately private home and mobile numbers are a hot commodity that are sold in list form alongside other contact information like your email address and even your home address. It isn’t uncommon to see suspicious letters coming through the post that try their very hardest to look legitimate, professional and of course carry some threat of urgent action needed to ‘make things right’ in some way.

Many bogus retailers offering PPE have also emerged amid the fallout of the pandemic, which is particularly heinous. Although many new strategies have been developed by criminals, the best of the old tricks are still in regular use.

These include advanced payment scams, where people are asked to transfer sums of money to receive larger figures which never materialise. In many cases, they never hear from the fraudsters again – although some particularly brazen figures will try their luck if their first attempt is successful with some sad reports of victims being targeted multiple times and even instructed to visit different backs for each deposit they make to help minimise the chances of the bank catching on to the attack.

Source: BBC

Dangerous downloads

Many of us are likely more familiar with the risks that come with downloading on desktop computers (dodgy .exe files or torrent downloads for example) and can take appropriate action such as installing antivirus and implementing common sense, however this isn’t the only area we need to be wary of any longer.

The world of mobile apps, which has exploded this last decade, has inevitably become massively exploited by criminals. There have been reports of apps that claim to offer Covid-related news, products and services but can lock your phone up and demand ransoms once you download them!

While the Google Play Store and Apple App Store are usually pretty quick to crack down on offending apps one should always be extra careful with apps. Stick to downloading directly from the official app stores, be especially wary of new apps with a small number of downloads and pay attention to the reviews for an app you’re unfamiliar with (take time to read reviews, especially recently added reviews that are less than 5 out of 5 stars).

Have you been targeted by Covid criminals?

If you suspect that you have been targeted by scammers, don’t confront them or accuse them of illegal activity. The best move is to cut the conversation dead, disengage and report them to the authorities. If you’re worried someone that you know is likely to become the victim of a Covid fraudster, educate them to help them avoid being scammed.

Source: Morris County, NJ

Criminals have always targeted vulnerable people and those less likely to suspect any wrongdoing.

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