October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and this year marks an especially vulnerable time for consumers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a surge in cybercrime, according to Matt Donahue, a compliance and risk analyst at Sentient Digital, Inc., a technology solutions and IT managed services provider with offices in New Orleans and Norfolk.
“Despite businesses aiming to adapt to the rapid technological changes that accompanied more remote work, cybercriminals are ready to exploit the gaps left behind,” he told The Epoch Times.
With a higher number of shoppers making purchases online, thieves have found additional ways to carry out digital attacks. It’s estimated that cybercrime will cost the world $6 trillion in 2021, up from $3 trillion in 2015, according to Cybersecurity Ventures.
Fortunately, staying safe online often starts with recognizing signs that could indicate a scam. By knowing what to look for, you can reduce your risk of falling victim to cyber theft. Follow these guidelines as you work, shop, and spend time online.
Don’t Click on Phishy Links
Phishing scams involve a message, such as an email, text, or online advertisement, that tries to obtain personal information. For instance, you might get a message asking you to click on a link. When you click, you are taken to a phony website, where you are asked to confirm your account information or update your password. The thief then takes your identifying information and uses it to make purchases in your name or access your account.
“There are a lot of phishing scams out there that are taking advantage of people’s fears about the COVID-19 pandemic,” Robert Siciliano, a cyber social identity protection instructor at ProtectNow, told The Epoch Times. “Right now, the most prolific are coming out about the World Health Organization.”
Make Online Purchases Carefully
When using food services, Donahue suggests paying through the app only. “If they request a different method, cancel the order.”
Be tentative about buying items at a website you’ve never heard about.
“There are also a ton of new fake e-commerce sites popping up, most of them claiming to sell things like masks, gloves, and other COVID-19 related products,” Siciliano said.
Before buying anything, look for the name of the website and carry out a search to verify its legitimacy. Check online reviews about the company and make sure the URL is spelled correctly. Also be wary of sites that offer extremely low prices or heavy discounts.
Hang Up the Phone
If you pick up the phone and hear an urgent story, followed by a request for financial help or your account information, don’t share anything personal. Scammers often pose as a relative in need of financial assistance, a government agency, or a charity that needs funds. Rather than responding, hang up the phone and call the person or organization yourself to see if the request is legitimate. Also keep in mind that the IRS or Social Security Administration will not insist you make payments over the phone.
“There are no government agencies that will ask you for money or personal info,” Siciliano said.
Research Work from Home Offers
“Because of the large pool of unemployed and underemployed workers this pandemic has caused, scammers and cybercriminals find work-from-home schemes an ideal opportunity for fraud,” Matthew Paxton, a cyber tech expert and the founder of Hypernia, a gaming review site, told The Epoch Times.
These scams often promise high salaries or easy work, but then ask the job seeker to first pay for training or other hiring-related costs. If a company or recruiter contacts you, take time to look up the offer and organization online. Turn down opportunities that require you to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars before getting hired.
“Use antivirus software and a VPN to ensure safe and secure browsing,” Donahue said.
A VPN, or virtual private network, creates a private network from a public network, giving you online privacy. When it comes to passwords, focus on strength and uniqueness.
“Avoid repeating passwords and use a password manager software to store them,” Donahue said.
Roboform, Nordpass, and LastPass are password manager tools to help you create and maintain online passwords. If possible, use multifactor authentication when logging into accounts to provide an extra layer of security. For instance, with this setup, you may be asked to enter a password, followed by a code that is sent to your phone, to verify your identity.
Watch Out for False Apps
“Fake mobile apps are also on the rise, and when downloaded, these apps can install things like spyware, malware, and ransomware on the person’s device,” Siciliano said.
Spyware can be used to collect your personal information, malware can damage your device, and ransomware may block access to a computer system until you pay a certain sum or ransom. Before downloading a new app, look up reviews and check its rating. If you’re not sure whether it is legitimate, avoid adding it to your device until you can verify it is for real.