How criminals are taking advantage of the Coronavirus scaremongering

  Simonx   |   3rd March 2020 - 6 min read

Data Protection | Technology

You’d have to be living in a cave not to have heard about Coronavirus and the way a particular strain (Covid-19), which is said to have originated from China, is spreading like wildfire around the world.

Coronavirus, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), is a large family of viruses that can cause illness from the common cold symptoms to more severe illnesses such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. It’s also zoonotonic, which means it’s a disease that has been transmitted from animals to people.

Thousands have been infected in China but elsewhere are still quite low. At the time of writing only 51 people have been infected according to The Telegraph. However, many are starting to get overly concerned and panic-buying food supplies, face masks and hand sanitizer.

But now criminals are also getting in on the act according to the WHO. The organization warns that criminals are claiming to work for WHO to steal money and sensitive information.

Criminals are fleecing unsuspecting victims in a number of ways. They’re sending malicious emails (known as phishing emails) and texts asking for sensitive information such as login details of accounts, asking people to open attachments, sending them to unsecure links and asking them to donate money to emergency response plans or creating fictitious funding appeals.

Instead of asking people to download a genuine attachment or sending them to a website where they can donate money safely scammers making them download malicious attachments or sending them to unsecure websites. This enables the criminals to install malware or steal sensitive information after the hapless victim downloads the attachment or inputs information into a site.

The WHO has issued a statement reiterating that it would never ask people to do those things and to report anyone who does.  

Now that the WHO has issued such a warning it’s likely that these criminals will start to impersonate other companies, charities or people in ‘need of help or donations to fight the Coronavirus’. Some of these emails can look strikingly similar to correspondence from the legitimate organisations.

But the good news is that there are several ways you can prevent yourself from being scammed. This is the general advice and preventative measures given from WHO and other sources to ensure you don’t fall victim to these criminals:

  1. Verifying the email address

Look at the email in question and take a look at who sent it to you. If it’s from a source you don’t recognise be cautious and suspicious of it.

  1. Checking if the link is legitimate

Hovering over a link without clicking on it can give you the full URL. If you don’t recognise it then don’t click on it. Better yet, go directly to the site you want to go to. Never click on links you are unsure of. If you’re really nosy you could make use of a link scanner – many of which are free. These, like URLVoid, are websites and plug-ins that allow you to enter a URL and verify its safety.

  1. Not parting with personal information online

Don’t give out any personal information if you’ve been contacted by someone you don’t know. Even if you feel sure it’s a relevant vendor or supplier rather contact them directly with the information you have to hand or search their contact details online independently.

  1. Don’t feel pressured

The WHO point out that cybercriminals use emergencies to coax victims to make decisions quickly and spontaneously. It advises: “Always take time to think about a request for your personal information, and whether the request is appropriate.”

  1. Changing your passwords

If you’re worried about having been compromised, then it’s best to change your passwords.

  1. Reporting the scam

Finally, if you find out that it’s a scam it’s always a good idea to report it to the company.

Further reading:

We’re all connected but that makes us vulnerable to a collective and vicious malware attack

Simon Cowling

Simon spent over 10 years programming from behind a keyboard, before transitioning across to management. A keen adrenaline junkie, whether that involves going up the mountain or over the edge of the cliff. He learned his management skills not just in the I.T world but also running youth camps and conferences, helping teenagers find a footing in life. He also really likes pie.

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