You don’t have to look far to see that online fraud has risen as the coronavirus pandemic has spread around the world. Many reports show that criminals are taking advantage of people’s fear and anxiety, trying to defraud them.
Fortunately, protecting yourself against online scams is not too different from protecting yourself against Covid-19.
We’ve all very quickly adopted new hygiene protocols that are now part of our daily routines. There’s no reason you can’t apply the same principles to avoid online scams.
Wash hands and sanitise
We all now know that the first line of defence against the coronavirus is to reduce exposure to the virus. So much so, that we now instinctively wash and sanitise our hands all day long.
You need a similar routine in your daily fight against fraud and scams. Your first line of defence in this battle is vigilance and a suspicious nature – cleanse your attitude of any trusting naivety.
Many scams prey on fear and anxiety. And what better news at the moment than hearing you’ve won a new car, or thousands of rand in cash … from competitions you never entered.
Your first question should always be: ‘Why?’
Why you, when you never entered a competition?
Why does your bank want you to validate your login details now?
Why is the SMS or email is delivered at 2am? Who could possibly be working at such crazy hours?
Why is your business being asked to submit a quote for something totally unrelated to your industry?
If it sounds too good to be true, then it is.
Just as you need to wear a mask when out in public, you can’t go around unprotected online. Your second line of defence against online fraud is to use security software that will protect you against viruses and malware.
Also, remember to accept software updates when they’re available for your digital devices. They may be annoying, but they also contain critical security updates to plug known holes.
A home-made mask may be enough to protect you against the coronavirus, but unfortunately there’s no DIY tool for your online security. The best approach is to speak to the IT experts, such as your local software retailer, who understand what security software will suit your needs.
Yes, this will cost some money, but that cost will be much lower than the pain and suffering of losing money to some criminal enterprise.
The practice of keeping a safe social distance of at least 1,5 metres is easy in comparison to staying away from criminals and their online scams.
In a physical environment you can see the people around you and in queues. If someone invades your space, you can move out of the way or caution them to keep their distance.
The same doesn’t apply online. The best way to practise digital social distancing is to keep your critical equipment away from possible contamination. This means limiting your device exposure to potential threats.
For instance, use only your home computer – not your laptop – for sensitive transactions like banking, online shopping and online payments. The reason is simply that laptops are easy targets for thieves, and if they have your computer, they might be able to access sensitive information and online credentials.
Thieves looking to pawn your machine for a few hundred rand probably don’t care to extract this data, but who’s to say where the stolen goods may end up?
You can avoid this threat by not using or storing sensitive data on a highly desirable, portable device like a laptop. This is more difficult with your mobile phone, because you probably use a mobile banking app.
Let common sense prevail over how you manage your mobile devices. But remember that the more devices you use for sensitive transactions, the more attack points you present to online fraudsters.
Avoid public gatherings
The reason for avoiding large public gatherings is clear to everyone who’s concerned about how easily the coronavirus infection can spread in large groups.
For similar reasons, it makes just as much sense to avoid exposing your devices to public networks.
Free WiFi can seem like a godsend if you need to urgently check email or post a social media update. But these networks are also a godsend for criminals looking to infect your device or extract crucial information from it.
It’s difficult to remain disciplined on this, but you need to weigh the convenience of free internet against the considerable threats they pose. Is saving a few rand on mobile data worth the pain and hassle of losing far larger amounts to criminals?
The fact that online fraud is a reality we have to live with daily in no way means we have to accept it. You can play your part in preventing these crimes by denying criminals the opportunity to exploit weaknesses at your expense.
Never share your card PIN, Nedbank ID and password or profile, PIN and password with anyone. If your mobile device has been lost or stolen, call 0800 110 929 immediately and have your Nedbank Money app deactivated.