Cybersecurity awareness is more important than ever. Here are some tips on how to avoid falling victim to fraudulent emails and websites.
An email informs you about your big win: "Due to the most recent Covid-19 epidemic, Your email has been selected to claim the sum of USD 500,000 in the 2020 EU/COMMONWEALTH LOTTO through the United Nations Covid-19 relief funding."
Congratulations...on not falling for this badly written scam. But let's not be complacent. This type of "phishing" (pronounced the same as fishing) is often used successfully by criminals. They know that it plays on the fact we are naturally inquisitive, generally trusting, and open to unexpected rewards.
Other scams can be even more difficult to spot as they mimic existing trusted relationships. In March 2020, Barbara Corcoran, a judge in the business reality show Shark Tank had USD 400,000 stolen from her account by "spear phishing". An email that looked like it was from Corcoran's assistant authorized her accountant to wire the money to pay for home renovations. Fortunately, an alert bank froze the money before it could reach the criminals.
Exploiting financial concerns
In a somewhat similar approach, some fraudsters pose as financial institutions to take advantage of our desire to safeguard or personal and family finances, particularly during uncertain times. For instance, Aegon in the UK has warned that criminals were impersonating Aegon by creating fake websites and email addresses. The goal of this fraudulent activity varied from collecting personal data to selling non-existent financial products.
In an article written on Aegon UK in 2020, it says: "The coronavirus crisis has created a perfect storm for fraudsters as they look to exploit people's vulnerabilities and squeeze on personal finances."
Do you think you may have been targeted or would like to know more?
Read the full 2020 article from Aegon UK and download an infographic on how to protect yourself from online financial fraud.
Kate Smith, head of pensions at Aegon UK, comments: "When you look at the figures of the number of people affected by financial fraud, it hits home how horrific the scale of the issue is. We all need to talk about this issue to make more people aware of the very real dangers of either responding to approaches or signing up to things without really understanding what is being entered into or knowing who they are dealing with.
"The coronavirus crisis lockdown measures have changed every element of our normal working, entertainment and social patterns, meaning we're spending more time online. This unfortunately can be a big benefit to scammers.
"We also know scammers are adept at reinventing their tactics. It's easy to think that we need to be on our guard from cold calling or phishing attempts, but mounting evidence shows scammers don't rely on these methods alone. They can just as easily turn their hand to creating convincing websites or another online presence, which people can inadvertently fall prey to when searching online."
What can we as individuals and businesses do to protect ourselves from online scammers? There are several things we can and should do.
Aegon UK’s top tips for avoid scammers
- Pause, take your time and don’t be rushed into making a quick financial decision.
- Never give out personal information, including your bank details.
- Beware of websites offering to unlock your pension early or offering you high returns to change your pension arrangements. If it looks too good to be true it often is.
- Always find out who you are dealing with by checking the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) online registers and list of FCA unauthorized firms and individuals. Residents in other countries show check with the local financial regulator.
- Check if your local financial regulator has information on known investment scams.
- Get guidance or advice from a regulated professional adviser before changing your financial arrangements.
- Report any concerns to your financial services provider.
Combating online fraud requires individuals and organizations to work together, according to cybersecurity awareness campaigns in the US and the European Union during October 2020.
The National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM) campaign in the US has been running for 17 years. Themed "Do Your Part. #BeCyberSmart", the 2020 campaign encouraged "individuals and organizations to own their role in protecting their part of cyberspace, stressing personal accountability and the importance of taking proactive steps to enhance cybersecurity". The resources it provides included a page full of tip sheets - including one on phishing - to help people reduce cybersecurity risks and to protect themselves online.
Similarly, European Cybersecurity Month (ECSM) ran hundreds of events in October 2020 across Europe, including conferences, workshops, webinars, and presentations to promote digital security and cyber hygiene as a "shared responsibility".