Coronavirus has unfortunately but predictability seen an increase in online scams.
In this guide I’ll be showing you how to avoid them and stay safe online giving you one less thing to worry about.
While we all wish to view the internet as a place where we can safely work, learn, relax, do research, watch a movie, play games, listen to music, socialise, and more – the reality is that it is not nearly as safe as we would like it to be.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
These days, with the COVID-19 pandemic still going strong, a lot more people will start spending a lot more time online while in self-isolation.
With that in mind, now is the time to get clued up on the types of scams that are already circulating and looking out for those that will sadly crop up more in the coming weeks.
Types of attacks
There are several types of attacks that have started taking place recently, using the fear of COVID-19 against the masses.
People around the world are confused and concerned, and at their most vulnerable, which provides scammers and hackers with a perfect opportunity to strike.
Here is what you should expect:
1) Email attacks
Email attacks are quite common, and they are possible at any time, not just in times of crisis.
They are rather simple to understand, too.
Criminals would send an email, often pretending to be representatives of an official and trustworthy institution, like a bank, a medical institution, or alike.
They would often send a disturbing message which has the purpose of preventing you from thinking clearly by causing panic or fear.
They would then include a malicious link or attachment, which will either infect your device when clicked on or lead to a phishing webpage that will look like the real page of a bank or some other institution.
This won’t be an official website but instead will be a fake controlled by criminals, who will then steal your credentials.
In cases of malicious attachments, they would likely infect your device with malware.
2) App attacks
Recently, several coronavirus tracking apps emerged, which is hardly surprising considering the speed at which the virus has been spreading.
People wish to know how the virus progresses, and whether there have been any reported cases nearby, and that is perfectly normal.
Fortunately, many reputable developers have responded with tracking apps, but unfortunately, there have also been those who have misused the panic to create malicious apps.
One such app, Coronavirus Tracker, contains ransomware that locks the users’ smartphones and demands money.
Thankfully security researchers found if this happened to you, you could use the code “4865083501” to unlock the phone.
#ESETresearch ALERT: #COVID19 #Android #Ransomware: If you installed malicious Coronavirus Tracker app that locked your smartphone and requested ransom, use "4865083501" code to unlock it. Key is hardcoded. @LukasStefanko Details: https://t.co/6fIm5STFIU pic.twitter.com/ojkRkGznPN
— ESET research (@ESETresearch) March 17, 2020
There is also the possibility of people being tricked into handing over money.
People willing to donate money via the internet could find themselves sending payments to fake charities that were set up by scammers who would then disappear with the money.
If you have the means and the will to help, do your best to research every charity you plan on participating in, and make sure that it is legitimate before sending your funds.
How to spot COVID-19 scams
The best way to avoid falling victim to one of these attacks is to be aware of them and know how to recognise the signs.
Below I will explain what to do for each of these:
If you happen to receive an email that you find suspicious, there are certain things for you to pay attention to, as they might reveal that the email is a part of a hacking attack.
Start by looking for:
- Poor Grammar
- Poor Spelling
- Incorrect Punctuation
Criminals often do not pay much attention to these things or could be from non-English speaking countries which a large organisation would have proofread.
Real companies usually spend time creating highly appealing emails visually and it’s unlikely spelling mistakes would be allowed to slip through their checks.
Also, see if it addresses you personally, or does it use generic terms.
If you receive an email from a bank, it will usually be personalised because they have details of your name.
If it’s from a criminal, it is likely to use generic terms such as ‘valued customer’ or ‘sir’ / ‘madam’.
Also, pay attention to the text itself.
If it’s trying to cause panic, urgency, or bring some other bad news that will have you instantly open it without thinking, it is likely to be a part of an attack.
If in doubt, contact the organisation the email claims to be from to confirm.
However, be aware of long waiting times for contacting some services and consider if you could wait until a later date or less busy time.
If you wish to keep track of the Coronavirus outbreak and you found an app that seems perfect for it, stop and think before downloading.
Look at the app’s rating and developer.
If it is not a trusted source, it might be best for you to avoid it.
Also, remember to check out the comments before downloading them. If this is a malicious app, you’ll often find other users have started to report the issues in the comments section.
Even if an app is legitimate, consider that the source data could also be inaccurate. Where possible stick to apps released by official organisations who will use reliable health data.
3) Fake charities
We have mentioned this already, but if you wish to donate to charities and you are not sure if they are legitimate, it is better to do your research first before handing over your money.
Google the charity and its representatives.
Check out their LinkedIn or Twitter accounts, see what they are posting, what are people commenting on their posts, and try to learn if these are well-known individuals and influencers.
Or if they’re just random people pretending to be collecting money for those in need only to run away with it.
If in doubt, stick with reputable long-term charities and ensure that the payment is going directly to them. Do not be fooled to pay a third party or other source.
Contact the charity via their official channels before donating to confirm they are indeed raising money for a particular cause.
The current situation is bad but spending a few minutes doing check before sending money won’t impact your help.
The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted the entire world in less than three months.
It has caused the stock market to crash, it caused thousands of people to lose their lives, and hundreds of thousands to fall victim to it and end up in hospitals around the world.
Now, with panic and fear dominating the world, opportunist crooks are out to get even those who were not affected by the virus itself through scams.
We have a name for these sorts of people, but we’ll keep this a PG-rated.
It doesn’t need to all be doom and gloom in these uncertain times. Follow our practical tips above to stay secure and give yourself one less thing to be concerned about.