Staying safe online in the time of Coronavirus

Many of us are spending more time online than ever, so here’s five things to be aware of to make sure you’re staying safe

Refunds and Rebates

Lots of us are currently re-planning holidays, festivals, theatre trips… in fact pretty much anything we had planned for the remainder of 2020.  As we’re expecting to hear from all these companies, it creates lots of opportunities for the fraudsters to get in touch. In fact, Google has reported that they’re blocking over 18 million hoax COVID-related emails a day from Gmail accounts.

So be extra vigilant.

Here are five things you should check to spot a scam email.

Be careful what you share…

"Your quarantine name is…. The last thing you ate and your favourite childhood pet"

"Enter your birthday to find out what was at number one the year you were born"

They seem harmless and we’re all a bit bored, so why not? 

Well, now people could easily find out your birthday and a potential password or security question answer. You’re actually giving away an awful lot of personal data without even realising. Scammers are persistent, and they will patiently build up profiles that allow them to hack accounts. 

If you do this sort of game, think about who you share the results back with.

…and who you’re sharing your screen with

Don’t give people outside of your organisation’s IT department remote access to your screen. This could be people posing as Independent Financial Adviser’s sending you things to download, or cold callers claiming they can fix your slow internet connection.

Check who you’re really donating to

One amazing outcome of this challenging situation is seeing the charitable side of people come out. We all want to help make a difference where we can, and that’s why it’s so important to check our money is going where we think it is.

Don’t make donations directly into someone’s bank account. Genuine fundraisers usually use one of the major charitable donation websites, like JustGiving or Virgin Money Giving.. 

If you want to be extra careful, go to Google and make your own way to a fundraisers’ donation page. Sometimes scam emails link to web pages that have been specially set up to look like official sites, so just because you end up somewhere that looks right, doesn’t mean that it is.

If you do follow the link, there are a few things you can do to check whether it’s a legitimate website:

  • Hover over the padlock in the browser bar. This indicates that a secure connection is being used

  • Look closely at the web address. Are there any unnecessary words or punctuation?

  • Check the ‘about us’ and ‘contact sections’. This should be full of information, like the company registration number or the Financial Services Register number, that you can verify elsewhere

  • Assess how it’s written. Real companies put a lot of time into their websites, so spelling or grammar mistakes are a good indication of something fishy.

Ask if you really know someone

Romance scams are another nasty way that fraudsters can trick you into giving them money or to gather your personal information to hack your accounts or take out financial products in your name.

We all think that this isn’t something that would happen to us, but with lots of us spending more time online and social distancing giving criminals the perfect excuse not to meet up with their dates, it’s something to watch out for.

Fraudsters subtly build up profiles of their victims over a period of time. This means that  little gesture like, "Oh, it’s your birthday? How old are you? I’d love to send you some flowers," seems natural, but suddenly they have your full name, date of birth and address.

An alternative trick is they prey on their victim’s better nature. After building a relationship, they say they’ve lost their job and need some money (which they’ll definitely pay back) to tide them over until their new one starts. In the current economy this is sadly all too believable.

To stay safe, be careful not to share any personal data with someone you’ve met online and never transfer money to someone you really don’t know, even if they have been ‘talking’ to you online for a while.

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