With widespread challenges faced by organizations dealing with COVID-19, cyber criminals are among the first to prey upon the confusion and seek financial gain by creating scams and fabricating false information in an effort to gain access to sensitive data. Ever since the pandemic began, the number of cyber crimes has unsettlingly increased as online scammers rushed in to target a frightened worldwide community. Owing to the global lock down in most parts of the world, people have been left with no choice but to remain occupied and in touch with the rest of the world online. It means we were pushed towards adopting the complete digitization of the way we work and how we communicate, and the necessity to share sensitive information across work channels. Such a scenario has left scammers with ample opportunities to do what they do best.
Over the last few weeks, people around the globe have reported receiving various forms of phishing, scam threads, misleading emails, selling counterfeit products online and false alerts.
Most common threats related to COVID-19
The most common threats lurking around can be broadly split into the following categories.
- Online sale of counterfeit products
- Financial relief/Donations
Phishing is one of the most common forms of cyber attack methods. The reports of email phishing campaigns started floating around soon after the confirmation of widespread infections which began spiking in January. After some research it was evident, the prime targets of impersonation were WHO and U.S. CDC. Online scammers have been spotted luring victims with document downloads or URLs using false promises of infection maps or safety documents.
Online sale of counterfeit products
The outbreak of the COVID-19 has led to a critical shortage of healthcare equipment. Supplies like hand sanitizers, face masks and even the toilet paper rolls have been out of stock at major retailers, in some cases leading to an increase of prices online in the past few weeks. This shortage is being driven in part by the misinformation being spread around that adds to the confusion surrounding the pandemic.
China is the world’s largest supplier of face masks owing to the manufacturing of almost 80% of the face masks. Due to the novel corona virus, production and exports from the manufacturing hub have been severely affected over the last two months. This has indirectly led to the creation of a large market for fake products to fill the shortage of PPE gear such as N95 surgical masks. Hundreds of shady websites have popped up with special offers and heavy discounts on healthcare products such as face masks.
Financial reliefs/ Donations
Financial relief aid and charitable donations are few other mediums that are being exploited by scammers to obtain money from you. Most online scammers send such emails/ URLs to collect money from their victims through bank transactions or even the controversial bitcoin. Through such scams, they can even hack your bank accounts and cause issues with future transactions as well as collect personal information. Some scam emails even go to the extent of creating fake tax refund deductions for the donation that you may make. Scammers often request donations for individuals or adversely affected areas by COVID-19.
How to avoid the online risk of scams and phishing
While you cannot completely get rid of those luring emails sent by scammers, there are few steps you can follow to avoid becoming a cyber attack victim. Here are a few expert recommended tips to follow:
- Always make it a point to verify the email sender’s name and email address before you even click on an email. Also, ensure you look carefully at the company’s logo to validate authenticity.
- If you process the email, and you see a URL or call-to-action clickable buttons, do not click on any link. Instead of hover over the link to see the complete URL and you will see where it actually leads. Redirects are common. There are hundreds of fraudulent domains that may be interlinked but kept hidden with persuasive URL text, for instance, a URL with ‘WHO’ could take you to the fake website.
- Avoid downloading any attachments before going through the complete email. In the case of misleading or suspicious content, avoid any emails with download files or images.
- If you come across an email asking you to fill a form, fields or take surveys, do not rush into typing your personal information. Think twice and validate your steps before entering your private details for form submission or transaction.
- If you receive any phishing emails, ensure the email content doesn’t contain grammatical mistakes, faulty layouts or spelling errors. These are often tell-tale signs that the email is not being sent by a credible source.
Go for the authorized source of information for COVID-19
If you want daily updates and news about the COVID-19 outbreak, it is recommended that you go to legitimate sources for information. To help prevent caving into scam emails, follow credible and authentic sources like the World Health Organization and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Otherwise, if you are comfortable with your daily news online portals, e-magazines, and social channels, you may pick up pandemic information from those sources as well.
We hope you, your family and everyone across the globe battling the virus outbreak stays healthy and safe both from the novel corona virus as well as the growing threat from cyber attackers.
For more news and information on how to protect your organization, visit our website. Follow us on Facebook, & LinkedIn or Contact us, 406-646-2102 and get your questions answered. Feel free to call us 406-646-2102 or mail sales@ExcelliMatrix.com.