Why the Covid-19 pandemic has been a blessing for scammers

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In case we needed any more proof, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us once again just how ruthless scammers are. While people across the world have united to look after those around them in this time of emergency, hackers and malicious actors have shown no sign of easing up. In fact, across the world scams are on the rise.

This crisis has provided a series of advantages to malicious actors, who have ramped up their operations in order to capitalize on it. Here, we’ll discuss why the pandemic has been a blessing for scammers, as well as some of the most prevalent scams and what you can do to protect yourself.

Sense of panic
One of the most dangerous tactics employed by scammers is to create a sense of panic among their targets. It is often easy to spot a suspicious email or web page when thinking calmly, but when a person is panicked, rational thought can go out the window. That’s one of the main reasons crooks have been able to exploit the pandemic: With so many people fearful of contracting the virus or breaking government-imposed restrictions, it is easier to provoke panic.

One scam that leverages this is SMS scams that falsely inform people that they have contracted Covid-19. Typically, a fake message tells the recipient that they have been near someone who has had the virus, and that they need to get tested. However, the link in the text actually directs recipients to a website that attempts to gain bank details and other personal information.

Changing norms
Another advantage for cybercriminals has been a shift in day-to-day norms. In normal times, phishing emails or texts pretending to be from official organizations tend to stick out—for example, asking the recipient to do something that legitimate organizations would never request, such as provide bank details. During the pandemic, though, it‘s less obvious when communications are out of the ordinary.

Government organizations across the world have been sending out texts and emails to citizens informing them of the latest rules regarding lockdown, and this has allowed scammers to exploit this change in norms to create convincing hooks for phishing emails. In April, for example, Google reported that there were more than 18 million malware and phishing emails related to Covid-19 sent out within just one week. Phishing emails can be even harder to spot on mobile, which is why ESET Mobile Security comes with an anti-phishing feature to target suspicious texts or emails.

Working from home
Probably the biggest change brought on by the pandemic has been the move toward so many people working from home for an extended period. The shift to remote work came suddenly—providing a great opportunity for cybercriminals.

Working from home has increased people’s vulnerability to cyberattacks, as it is more difficult to protect against threats on personal home networks. Not only have we seen an increased risk from malware and phishing; the rapid rise in popularity of video calling services has led to vulnerabilities in these platforms being exploited by hackers. The most infamous example is the Zoombombing phenomenon, where malicious actors broke into public Zoom calls in order to display graphic content to unsuspecting participants.

Tips to avoid falling victim
We’ve listed just a few of the ways in which the pandemic has been hijacked by scammers. Here are some tips to protect yourself against these threats and others:

  • Stay calm. Scammers use time pressure to encourage people to make decisions under stress, so if you receive a concerning email or message, take a deep breath and keep a level head.
  • Check the sender. If you receive a message that instructs you to click a link or provide information, always check the sender’s details. Try to authenticate any link you receive and, if in doubt, delete the message and report it.
  • Use official websites and channels. It’s always best to use a company’s official website, so if you receive an email or text that claims to be from an organization, avoid using the link provided. Instead, perform a fresh search in your browser.
  • Keep software updated. When vulnerabilities in apps, such as Zoom, are discovered, the company will provide an update to resolve the issue.This is why it’s vital to keep your software updated at all times.  Where possible, select the auto-update option so you don‘t forget.
  • Install antivirus and cybersecurity software. The battle against malware, phishing and all other types of online and offline threats starts with installing multilayered protection on your devices. See all ESET’s solutions for home and business security here.