Staying alert to scams during COVID-19

Unfortunately there are always those who will seek to profit from situations like the COVID-19 pandemic that we are all struggling to cope with at the moment. Many reports are suggesting that there has been an increase in spam, scams, misinformation and fake news as a result of what is happening globally.

Some examples of recent fraudulent activity include:
  • emails pretending to be from the World Health Organization (WHO) asking recipients to click on a link to report active infections in their local area.
  • offers for fake insurance schemes.
  • emails from the government asking people to click on a link in order to claim tax relief.
There have also been a large number of online shopping scams related to the purchase of face-masks and hand sanitisers which have either been ridiculously over-priced or, more commonly, never arrive.
A report, Pandemic Profiteering: how criminals exploit the COVID-19 crisis, published on 27 March 2020 by Europol looks in more detail at how criminals are exploiting the current situation. They cite a number of factors which are currently prompting changes in crime and terrorism which include:
  1. A high demand for certain goods, especially protective equipment and pharmaceutical products.
  2. More people working from home and relying on digital solutions and spending more time online.
  3. Many people are worried, and increased fear and anxiety can mean that individuals are more vulnerable to exploitation.
Sadly there is also evidence (cited in the Europol report) which suggests that:
"Information received from law enforcement partners strongly indicates increased online activity by those seeking child abuse material. This is consistent with postings in dedicated forums and boards by offenders welcoming opportunities to engage with children whom they expect to be more vulnerable due to isolation, less supervision and greater online exposure."
This reinforces the need to continue to raise awareness of online safety messages across a spectrum of risks, but at a time when many people are only able to focus on COVID-19 and staying safe.
With regards to the cyber security issues, it is important to remember a few basic rules and reminders.
  • Don't click on links that come from emails – it is much safer to use a web-browser and find the page yourself – checking that the URL is what you expect and not something different.
  • Never respond to unsolicited messages (in texts, emails, via phone calls or other means) that ask you to share personal or financial information – even if it appears to be from an official source.
  • Ensure that your computer, tablet and phone are up to date, that you have the latest version of the operating system and that any apps you are using are also up to date. Using the most up-to-date version means you will be protected from any security flaws or breaches that have been identified.
  • If you are making online purchases, use a reputable site and make the purchase with a credit card where possible – most providers insure online purchases and will help if there is any fraudulent activity.
We'll be bringing you a range of articles and insights on the opportunities and challenges of being online during COVID-19 in the coming days and weeks. Keep checking the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal and follow our social channels on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates.
In addition, for localised help and support in responding to some of the online challenges which COVID-19 presents, please do reach out to your national Safer Internet Centre (SIC) – find profile information and contact details on the BIK portal. In addition to a range of articles and resources in national languages, European Safer Internet Centres also provide helpline services allowing children and young people, and parents and carers to access personalised advice and support.

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