COVID-19: Online scams – how to stay cyber safe at home

Fraudsters adapt old scams and invent new methods to exploit the vulnerable and those working from home during the Coronavirus …

The European Commission and a number of national consumer authorities in the European Union have issued warnings on the scams and unfair commercial practices that aim to exploit people during the times of the Coronavirus. Read what consumers should be cautious about here.

Over the last weeks, attackers are increasingly impersonating the World Health Organization (WHO) by sending e-mails asking for Coronavirus donations to medical organisation for the purchase of supplies and medical equipment. Other e-mails claim to have valuable ‘health advice’ in an attachment that contains phishing links and other harmful elements.

Other examples of how criminals will act is they will use the telephone, text messages, e-mail, post or knock on your door selling fake Corona virus testing kits or fake cures. Some will claim to be acting for the local authority, saying we need contact details in case of emergency.

Other known frauds at present include online shopping scams where people order protective face masks, hand sanitiser and other health and medical equipment or personal protection products that never arrive. Some other frauds reported involve selling tickets for virtual events and charity fraud – organising fundraisers for known or newly-founded charities collecting donations for Coronavirus-related charitable actions.

In Ireland too, banks warn of increase in online scams targeting Covid-19 concerns after a notable increase in security issues. Key advice to avoid being scammed from the Irish Times is:

  • “Beware of emails, online requests, and online advertisements offering Covid-19 related tests and products purporting to be vaccines or cures.
  • Always independently check websites or dial the phone number of the company using their website.
  • Beware of unsolicited emails asking for personal details or asking you to click on a link. Do not engage – again pick up the phone or independently check the website of the company sending the email.
  • Never share or give away your credentials. You will never be asked for your credentials by your bank whether related to a payment or refunds.
  • Utility companies, Government Departments and Revenue will never ask you to reveal personal details over an email or text.
  • Do not make donations to charities without first checking authenticity.
  • Always double check with another person before transferring any money or buying any product
  • Check your bank account often for suspicious activity.”

As the scams now seem to travel as quickly as the virus, consumers should remain vigilant during these exceptionally difficult times and concentrate on cyber safety at home and while working remotely.

Europol created this helpful infographic on how to take extra precautions before clicking on any unsolicited emails, responding to SMS texts or answering calls from unknown or private/blocked numbers. It is very useful that all electronic, digital and smart devices such as computers, laptops, mobile phones and tablets are supported by the latest security and system updates. At this time, also consider installing antivirus software to minimise threats.

europol cyber safe

The European Consumer Centre’s Network (ECC-Net) has these tips if you are shopping online:

  • Rely on official channels of information about the availability, if any, of medical products which prevent or cure the coronavirus;
  • Watch out for fake domains which may look legitimate to trick you;
  • Look for the seller information e.g. contact details, and for reliable consumer reviews about the seller;
  • Read the information about delivery on the trader’s website and keep in mind that delivery in this period may take longer due to the various border restrictions;
  • Read the terms and conditions well to avoid falling a victim to a subscription trap e.g. when subscribing to online fitness or language classes;
  • Be cautious before entering your personal details for no specific reason to obtain information about a product or a service;
  • Follow the instructions of how to use a product properly and make a patch test, if possible e.g. hair dye products;
  • If unsatisfied with the product, remember that in principle, you have the right to withdrawal and you can return the good within 14 days.