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Covid-related cybercrime: What it is, and how you can protect yourself

17/06/2021

Covid-related cybercrime: What it is, and how you can protect yourself

17/06/2021

The UK’s cybersecurity agency has recently announced it has taken down more scams in the last year than it had in the previous three years combined, and the coronavirus is being used by scammers as a tactic to lure people in.

In this article we’ll explore what cyber scams are, why the coronavirus has become a launchpad for online fraud, and what kinds of things you should be looking out for if you want to protect yourself against scammers.

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What is cybercrime?

Any scheme that uses internet services or software in order to defraud or otherwise take advantage of unsuspecting victims for financial gain can be considered cybercrime.

Cybercrimes typically take the form of emails or SMS messages from figures of authority or institutions, like HMRC or the Post Office.

When people open communications from cyber scammers, it usually triggers some sort of negative action.

This might be as simple as sending malware (a virus) to the device the person is using, or as sophisticated as using software to duplicate sensitive information like your personal information or bank details.

Why have scams increased so dramatically during the pandemic?

The coronavirus has forced many of us indoors. Between ongoing restrictions, many of us working from home for the majority of the year, and the continual march to online retail, people are spending more time online than ever before.

The more time people spend online, or on their phones, the more likely they are to be sharing sensitive information, which presents cybercriminals with more opportunities to take advantage of people.

As well as the pandemic forcing people to spend more time online, criminals have now turned their attention to the coronavirus itself, and have begun to pose as Governments and public health bodies in an attempt to gain peoples’ trust.

According to the Guardian, experts from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) have seen a fifteen-fold increase in the removal of online phishing attacks compared to 2019, a rise that can largely be put down to the pandemic and the opportunities it presents.

What are some examples of covid-related cybercrime to look out for?

Vaccine fraud

One scam that is common now that the UK’s vaccine roll-out is well underway is the vaccine scam, where criminals send convincing looking text messages to let people know they are now eligible for the vaccine, usually posing as a local pharmacy or the NHS.

When people respond to the message, scammers attempt to trick them into transferring money or sending their bank details.

PPE scams

There has been a rise in cases of fraud relating to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like masks and visors, particularly at the start of the pandemic when PPE was at a premium.

Scammers pose as PPE providers willing to make sales to the direct public, and illicit funds from you in exchange for non-existent protective equipment.

Fake parcel delivery messages

While this scam isn’t as directly connected with the pandemic, online shopping has undoubtedly risen during more than a year of lockdowns and COVID restrictions.

The increase in deliveries has allowed scammers to take advantage, and thousands of people have reported being sent messages from scammers posing as Hermes, Amazon, and others, letting them know that they have a delivery to collect from the depot.

When you click the link included in the message, you’re directed to a website designed to trick you into handing over your personal information directly to the cybercriminals.

What do I do if I’ve been targeted by a cyber scam?

Nobody is too smart to fall victim to an online scam. If it happens to you, the most important thing to do is to take action.

First, protect yourself from further scams. Second, report the scam to the appropriate authority/ And lastly, find out if and how you can get your money back

The first thing to do is to go into defence mode. As soon as you discover you’ve been hacked, you should change all of your important passwords, contact your bank or building society to let them know you may be vulnerable, and purchase or update your antivirus software.

Next, you should report the scam to the appropriate authority. If you feel unsafe or the scam has caused you to lose a substantial amount of money, you should get the police involved. Otherwise, there are various organisations who handle online scams, from Citizens Advice to Action Fraud.

Finally, see about getting your money back. Sometimes if you explain to your bank what has happened, certain providers will offer a full or partial refund.

If your bank doesn’t offer you a refund, and you feel you have been treated unfairly, you can take your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman.

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