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Guest blog - how to avoid the coronavirus scammers

Dorset Police cyber protect officer Chris Conroy returns to offer some much needed advice as online scammers exploit the coronavirus emergency.

An awful lot has changed since the last guest blog, back in the halcyon days of February, when the pubs were open and we weren’t housebound.  

But here we are, just a few weeks later, facing one of the biggest challenges we’re ever likely to face. The pace with which the coronavirus has spread has seen our daily lives restricted in an unprecedented way. Now, with a nationwide lockdown in effect, we’re going to be spending a lot more time apart from friends and loved ones.

Thankfully we’re now more connected than ever. Video calls can help us keep up to date with family, social media can help us stay in touch with friends, and there is a host of ways to make working from home a possibility.

But cyber criminals are a resourceful bunch, and they know how to use situations like this against us. We’ve seen a wide variety of scams and threats emerging that use coronavirus as a hook, seeking to exploit our concerns to separate us from our cash.

 

In this guest blog, I want to cover two of the more prominent threats and give you some tips on how to keep safe.

Email

As one of the most common cyber security threats, it was inevitable that the coronavirus would be used as bait for phishing emails. Cybercriminals seek to use our emotions against us so that we act against our better judgement. What better emotion to use than fear?

Many of us will be relying on the internet to stay informed, and a well crafted email promising exactly what you want to know might pique your interest. We’ve also seen emails containing malicious attachments, designed to trick people into installing malware on their computers.

The examples we’ve seen have taken so many forms, it’s probably easier to list a few:

  • HMRC tax rebate – Plenty of these going around, claiming that the Government are handing out hundreds of pounds to every household in the country.
  • World Health Organisation fundraiser – these emails request donations to assist the WHO in their fight against the coronavirus, asking for various cryptocurrencies.
  • Department of Education free school meals – these emails request bank details so the DoE can pay a contribution towards your food bills.
  • Coronavirus trackers – some of the more concerning examples we’ve seen offer an app which gives you a map showing local coronavirus cases. The downloads are actually malware which can either spy on your device or encrypt your files.

These scams are just the tip of the iceberg.

Home working

For many businesses, remote working is something they’re well prepared for. However, for many of us this is something completely new.

As such, the National Cyber Security Centre has released some useful guidance (https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/home-working) on how to make sure you work from home as safely as possible.

Be wary of any emails you receive about home working. We have seen criminals trying to exploit people’s confusion in order to steal corporate email login details.

If you receive an email asking you to download software, or to sign in and ‘enrol’ in a remote working program, speak to your employer directly before taking action. One phone call could save an awful lot of issues, at a time where things are complicated enough!

Help is out there

While we are all hidden away in our homes, we will be turning to the internet to keep ourselves entertained. Obviously, the more time we spend online, the greater our potential exposure to cyber criminals.

There is a scam out there for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re old or young, or how tech savvy you believe yourself to be. We’ve had victims of all ages and abilities reporting crimes to us, so don’t let yourself become complacent. We have a few resources we like to recommend that might help:

  • If you want to learn more about how to keep yourself safe online, head to our website – www.dorset.police.uk/cybercrime.
  • If you aren’t sure how best to keep your children protected while they do their school work or chat with their mates, make use of the resources available at www.internetmatters.org.
  • If you want to help your kids learn about cyber safety, www.beinternetawesome.withgoogle.com can help. They have a bunch of interactive free games that help children learn about cyber security, online safety, cyber bullying and more.

While we have had to suspend our public speaking engagements, we are still here for you. If you have any cyber security related questions, please send them to cybercrimeprevention@dorset.pnn.police.uk.

I’ll do my best to answer where I can, or at least point you towards suitable resources. We’re also highlighting any scams that come to our attention on Facebook www.facebook.com/dorsetpolicecybercrime and Twitter www.twitter.com/dp_cybercrime so please follow us to find out more.

Until next time, stay safe out there – and stay at home if you can!

Chris

 

 

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