Hackers and scammers thrive during times of social upheaval and are taking full advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by sending emails, phone calls, texts and social media messages that contain phishing links, malicious attachments or fake information. They impersonate governments, health authorities, technical support groups, banks and other organizations in the hope of bilking the unwary out of their hard-earned money.
You can protect yourself and your home against these scams by knowing what to look for and what to do.
Telephone calls are usually in the form of a robocall where the caller claims to be from the taxation department or another authority claiming you are in default of a payment and are facing legal action. When the call is responded to an “agent” will come online and you will be directed to where they want you make a payment…and that payment will end up in the scammer’s bank account.
Other scams may advise that you are the winner of a lottery prize, or that you are late with a utility or time payment and that services will be cut off or legal action taken.
Email scams are much the same but not personalized and are often easily spotted because they contain grammatical errors or spelling mistakes. They usually arrive in the Spam folder, but can actually arrive at your Inbox because they are cleverly disguised as coming from legitimate businesses. You may get an enquiry on what appears to be a bank letterhead about an account you do not have with that bank. This type of scam is known as “Phishing”.
An online surfing scam which is costing computer users a lot of money these days is known as ransomware. This scheme invades your computer when you open an attachment from an insecure source which then quickly encrypts the complete contents of your computer. Your computer will malfunction and warn you that a virus has attacked it.
Shortly thereafter you will receive a pop-up message from a fake tech support group offering to “fix” your computer from a remote location upon payment of a fee. When you agree to give them remote access to your computer they will make a bogus repair to restore your files after they surreptitiously snoop through your hard drive looking for bank account information and passwords.
To gain a full appreciation of the scope of the ransomware scourge you may be interested in watching a four part BBC documentary profiling a typical operation which was recently uncovered in India where many such operations originate.
PROTECTING YOURSELF AGAINST SCAMS
There are a number of fairly simple things you can do to protect yourself even before you resort to specialized software solutions.
- Always use a firewall for Internet connections
- Download software updates to your built in software when they become available
- Regularly schedule backup copies of your files and store them away from your network
- Make passwords strong (Use upper and lower case plus numbers and symbols)
- Regularly change vital passwords and store them in encrypted form
- Secure your WiFi network (Don’t use public WiFi for confidential information)
- Download software only from authentic and safe sites (Does URL indicate HTTPS?) Remember that phishing sites avoid secure transfer protocols
- Consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to ensure your messages are encrypted and cannot be intercepted by unauthorized persons.
- Regularly update your anti-virus and anti-spyware software
At one time swiftly hanging up or deleting spam emails were the only cure for telephone and email scam attempts, but now technology offers a variety of robocall and spam blockers for your landline, mobile phone and computer. ( see attached)
There are also a number of full-service security suites now available that will protect your computer from the full array of malware out there on the Internet.
Some very good suites are:- TOTAL AV; PC PROTECT; McAfee; and Bitdefender
Here are some of the benefits they provide in making you safe from cybercriminals:
- Remove malware and spyware
- Detect which websites are safe
- Block Phishing websites
- Provide real time protection while running in the background
- Remove Adware
- Provide VPN
- Provide password manager
- Conduct scheduled scans
- Offer 24/7 telephone support
Making your whole household aware of cyber security principles will go a long way in protecting your assets.