It is very important to learn how to protect yourself from being a victim of online scams, especially during the Covid-19 period. Being aware of any suspicious emails or any other unusual electronic activity that may come across your screens, phones and emails, is the first step in protecting yourself.
While many of us are staying safe during the Lockdown, scammers are using people’s real fears about the impact that the Coronavirus is having on their finances, to steal their money. It is important that consumers are aware of these scams and stay protected, particularly since so much of our work and business transactions are being conducted almost exclusively online these days.
Piet Swanepoel, Chief Risk Officer at African Bank, says unfortunately cyber criminals have updated their fraudulent online tactics to cash in on the pandemic. The scams can take various forms, each designed to target unsuspecting online users.
“You should never click on any unfamiliar or suspicious links, or comply with requests for sensitive/private information, unless you are 100% sure you can trust the source,” he says. Being aware of disinformation campaigns and hoaxes, particularly on social media, is also important so you can spot the hoaxes when they cross your desk.
Swanepoel says the next absolutely key requirement is having a strong and unique password for each critical site. “We recommend you use multi-factor authentication wherever possible. This means combining your username and password with something that you own, such as a One Time Password app on your phone.”
Then of course, you must continue to apply all basic security features, such as keeping your operating system, plug-ins and anti-virus software up to date and applying security patches when necessary.
If you are working from home, you need to ensure you have secured your home Wi-Fi network. Swanepoel recommends you consider using a virtual private network (VPN), which provides a secure tunnel for all your internet traffic, preventing criminals from intercepting your data.
The golden rule is not to trust websites you do not know and if an offer looks too good to be true, it is probably fake. Swanepoel recommends before you buy online, based on an ad or post, check out the company/person by typing the name in a search engine with words like ‘scam’ or ‘complaint’. “Always be cautious if you are purchasing from someone you have not met or if you haven’t verified the product. Should you suspect that you are being targeted by a scammer, stop all communication at once and report it to your bank immediately,” he says.
Swanepoel cites five of the most common tactics which are used to catch out unsuspecting people:
- Fake calls and texts: Scammers create fake emails or texts which mimic the look and feel of legitimate institutions, to trick one into sharing valuable personal information like bank account details, ID numbers, passwords, etc.
- Online scams: Email scams that trick one into opening malicious attachments or clicking on links that allow scammers to steal your passwords, ID numbers, and bank details.
- Donation scams: There have been reports of thieves taking money from consumers by claiming they are collecting money for charities or NGOs.
- Fraudulent online loan sharks: Illegal money lenders are preying on people’s financial hardships, charging exorbitant interest rates for loans.
- Fake vouchers and refunds: Scammers are offering fake vouchers for groceries or refunds on bank transactions, just to get unsuspecting South Africans to share their personal information.