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Protect yourself from cyber fraud in the time of covid-19

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As India grapples with the second covid wave, cybercriminals are working overtime to take advantage of the situation. There are already many incidents of fraud involving vaccines, donations, etc.

Last year was no different. Cybercriminals posed as bank officials and offered loan moratorium for a “fee”. There were fake UPI (unified payment interface) handles for PM CARES Fund.

Sample this: nearly 120 million people experienced cybercrime between February 2020 and 2021, according to the Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report by NortonLifeLock, a cybersecurity firm. It could worsen this year as people continue to work from home and use online services more often.

“Internet banking penetration has increased. Even in rural areas, mobile banking transactions are on the rise. But the awareness about cybercrimes has not kept pace, which makes many easy targets,” said Bharat Panchal, chief risk officer for India, Middle East and Africa, FIS, a technology company that focuses on the financial services sector.

“New hubs of cybercrimes have mushroomed. Like the infamous Jamtara in Jharkhand, gangs now operate out of Bharatpur in Rajasthan, Mewat in Haryana, etc. They constantly look at newer ideas for scams,” he added.

Here are some frauds that have been reported and ways to protect yourself.

COVID-19 TESTING

As the number of covid cases rises, laboratories are unable to keep up with the demand for tests. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the clogged system. There have been cases where people booked tests online with little-known labs, which turned out to be frauds. “The scammers even visit the victim’s house and collect the sample,” said Panchal. Later, they either don’t provide a report or send a fake one.

Caution: Book a test with a lab approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research. “If you come across a new lab, do an online search by typing the company name and adding ‘fraud’ to it. There is a good probability that victims would have talked about it on social media,” said Prashant Mali, a Mumbai-based cybersecurity expert.

JABS AND DRUGS

Once the vaccination drive started, the government allowed individuals to book appointments online. It also set up a platform called Co-WIN for registrations. Cybercriminals started releasing apps with Co-WIN as part of their names. There have been instances where cybercriminals made fake websites asking people to pre-book vaccines by paying upfront. Bogus websites have been selling drugs like remdesivir that are in short supply.

Scammers even stole data pretending to be government officials wanting to track the progress of those who are vaccinated. They ask individuals to upload personal details and identity documents for such tracking. In the past year, over 27 million Indians were victims of identity theft, according to the NortonLifeLock report.

Caution: When downloading an app, look at the creator. Verify whether it’s from an official source.

“Guard your documents diligently. Cybercriminals can use Aadhaar, PAN card and mobile number details in many ways. By stealing your identity, they can take loans in your name, open bank accounts and get illegal money transferred and even carry out SIM-swap fraud,” said Mali.

DONATIONS AND CHARITIES

Social media is full of people asking for help. Many individuals have taken initiatives to provide support to the needy, and they ask their friends on Twitter or Facebook to contribute if they wish.

Cybersecurity experts warn that it’s possible for cybercriminals to fake such initiatives and ask for contributions.

Caution: If you want to donate, preferably give money to an established NGO. For individual initiatives, send money only to people you can trust.

Criminals are known to have used hacked Facebook or Twitter accounts and reached out to followers or people on the friends’ list and asked for monetary help. Avoid sending money to someone unless you have confirmed it’s the same person seeking help.

A few more basic things can help you prevent frauds. Double-check links and email addresses before clicking. Fake links often imitate established websites by adding extra words or letters. Misspelt words or random letters and numbers in the URL or email address may also indicate a scam.

Add two-factor authentication to your accounts. This provides another layer of security by requiring two steps to gain access to your account.

Avoid putting your mobile number, date of birth and other details online. The only way to protect yourself is to be suspicious of all unknown incoming messages, emails or calls.

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