Over the last 12 months, COVID-19 has changed how we live and work. Many employers have seen staff log-on and work from home and everyone else is going online more to stay in touch with family and friends as well. But with this increase in online home working and socialising, we’ve seen an alarming increase in online security and protection scams. So how can you avoid them?
Phishing Scam Increases
Online scams are nothing new. They started life somewhere back in the dot.com boom days of the late 90s. Now they’re a regular part of our online lives. But these scams, known as ‘phishing’, have increased more and more rapidly in recent years, targeting users at home and at work.
With a natural increase in freelancers and sole traders working from home – a 75% increase between 2008 and 2018 and rising – the pandemic has seen huge numbers of office-based business staff now working from home too. You can also add the boost in online socials with long-distance family and friends at home as well.
With this seismic shift in living and working online, cybercriminals, scammers, and fraudsters have upped their game. By developing more authentic and realistic scams, they now have new ways to exploit naive home users as well as complacent business or home workers who have relied on an IT department to protect them.
What Is Phishing?
The term ‘phishing’ is as old as the act itself. It’s a play on the word ‘fishing’ where bait gets thrown out there by the scammers who then wait to see who bites. Though their net has widened over the years. Once limited to dodgy-looking emails, they now practice their dark arts through texts, phone calls, digital ads, and ever-more realistic phishing emails.
Whatever the medium, online security and protection scams will either harm your computer or encourage you to divulge personal information, including your passwords and bank or credit card details – or both. These increasingly sophisticated methods are pre-designed to put your own security and finances at risk.
So let’s see what the most common types of phishing and online security and protection scams are, what they mean, and how you can prevent them.
The daddy of the scams. Phishing is usually done through email but is common in text and WhatsApp messages, and direct messages through social media.
Emails can land in your inbox claiming to be from trusted organisations such as your bank, HMRC, TV Licencing, charities, or even the government. They look convincing and will use the same logos and layout to a genuine email – even with reference numbers. But they can contain basic errors, including misspelling your name, or refer to something you’ve never had, known about, or been a part of.
Usually, they’ll contain a message about money. Either that you owe money which requires urgent action to avoid penalties, or you’re owed a refund or rebate, together with a clickable link. These links will take you to a mirrored website which may then infect your computer with a virus or ask for your personal and financial details to proceed.
Text and WhatsApp messages will be short and to the point. Coming from similarly named organisations, they’ll include a similar link for you to click. But business users can also be a target through their LinkedIn profile or business PayPal account.
A personal message or a fake email can fool you into opening a harmless-looking file. In fact, it can be ransomware. A form of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system or encrypt files until you pay a sum of money, either through Bitcoin or cash. Fake emails can also contain links which, if clicked, can activate a ‘Please wait…’ message. As you wait, malware is attacking your system and stealing your passwords.
What to do if this happens…
Emails, text or WhatsApp messages might look and sound convincing. Always take your time to read the email or message thoroughly and don’t click on any links or open any attached files. Sometimes, it can quickly become obvious that it’s a scam. If in doubt, don’t risk it – hit delete.
2. Phone Calls
Phone scams are as common as emails nowadays. Usually centred around tech support of some kind, they’ll focus on a ‘security’ issue. These ‘tech support’ calls – claiming to be from reputable companies including Talk Talk, Microsoft, Virgin, or BT – sound authentic. But they’re a malicious attempt to catch you off guard and panic you.
Popular scams include telling you there are problems with your computer’s security or your internet. The scammers will get you to open your computer, then gain remote access to it, before asking you to log-in to your bank account. By giving them full access, they can see any password, DoB, numerical or alphabetical code, and answers to any security questions you type.
What to do if this happens…
Because protection and security are serious, phone calls like this can sound genuine and be persuasive. Reputable companies will never just call you to tell you there’s something wrong with your computer. Nor will they ask you for any money, or ask you to log-in to your online banking, to ‘fix’ anything. If in doubt, hang up.
3. Digital Ads
Digital ads will often creep into your social media feeds or pop up when you’re browsing online. Again, designed to scare, these will claim your computer is infected with a virus or is under attack. These fake anti-virus software ads are deliberately aimed at persuading you to download free software. The reality is, downloading it can actually install a virus, ransomware, malware, or some other kind of cyberthreat.
What to do if this happens…
Virus infection can be severe, so the ads you see are deliberately designed to alarm you so they seem genuine – and it can happen at speed. Be aware of any digital ads that flash, show a convincing Apple or Windows software warning, or ask you to download anything ‘immediately’.
These security and protection scams are some of the most common you’ll see when you’re running your business, working, or browsing online. But they only scratch the surface. Knowing about them is your first step to protecting yourself, your computer, and your business.
Get Protected With Geeks On Wheels
To give yourself a fighting chance at home, online security and protection is crucial. Protect all your devices with reliable anti-virus software and keep operating systems and programmes updated. If you’re a business user, use the tools and cloud drives specified and configured by your IT department.
Whether you’re currently taking care of business from home or are a general user, scammers don’t discriminate. We’re all open to attack and every online user is a target, but our Geeks On Wheels cybersecurity services are all you need to make sure you stay safe online.
We’re tech experts and Cyber Essentials certified with plenty of experience to help you. So to futureproof your kit and get protected quickly and safely, contact us today. And if you run a business, we can even work with you to gain your own Cyber Essentials certification.