As we all do our best to make our way through this unprecedented year, we need to take extra caution to keep ourselves and our community safe. And that doesn’t just mean wearing a mask and washing your hands — it also means protecting your cyber health by not falling victim to COVID-19-related phone or Internet scams.
Unfortunately, cybercriminals are taking advantage of the collective pandemic fear to launch online scams and phishing attacks against individuals and organizations. In celebration of Cyber Security Awareness Month, here’s how to recognize phishing scams and malicious phone calls, what to do if you think you’re being scammed and how to get cyber safe.
What is phishing anyway?
Phishing is a cyber scamming technique used to extort confidential information, such as passwords, credit card numbers or banking information. Phishers use emails, phone calls or text messages to act as companies you trust and ask you to provide confidential details, financial information or access to your accounts.
For example, you might receive an email that says your account will be deactivated if you do not confirm your personal information immediately. The email will appear to contain a link to your bank (or another reputable business) where you can reactivate your account. Instead, this link will lead to a fake — but convincing — webpage that allows the phisher to gain access to your private information.
How to recognize a COVID-19 scam.
Since the start of the pandemic, online scams have been on the rise. In March and April alone, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received 739 reports of attempted COVID-19 scams, 178 of which were successful.1 This isn’t exclusive to Canada: Cybercriminals around the world are leveraging the ongoing stress of the pandemic to con people and businesses for their personal gain.2
But how do you know if an email, text or phone call you’ve received is a scam? Fraudsters typically act as government agencies, financial institutions or other businesses you recognize in order to earn your trust and make you take action. A COVID-19 Internet scam might come from a loan or financial advisor offering to help small business owners (like yourself) get through the lockdown. Fraudulent phone calls often come from health agencies claiming to provide quick access to COVID-19 tests, or from private companies offering to help you with your CERB applications.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre warns that fraudsters are creative and are constantly finding new ways to take advantage of Canadians. It’s important to stay vigilant, detect the signs of suspicious activity, and report COVID-19-related scams to the appropriate authorities.
When you receive a call, text or email claiming your financial status is in jeopardy, it’s only natural to be tempted to react quickly. But phishing scams are designed to capitalize on your fears and anxieties, which are probably running particularly high during a global crisis. Here’s how to protect yourself from phone or online scams, both during and after the pandemic.
Protect yourself from COVID-19 scams.
- Know what to look for. Be wary of any emails, calls or text messages that request sensitive information or push you to take urgent action. If something generally feels off, trust your instincts and hang up the phone, or ignore the email or text.
- Double down on passwords and security questions. Protect your accounts by using complex passwords and unique answers to security questions that only you would know. This is especially important for websites that hold sensitive information, such as your online banking or CRA account. Use two-factor authentication whenever possible to keep your accounts extra secure. And, of course, never share your passwords with anyone.
- Update your computer and antivirus software regularly. Many of us ignore those constant software updates, but they contain crucial security features that can protect you from online scams. Keep your devices, applications and antivirus software up-to-date. If you are a Cogeco Business Internet customer, activate your included security licences. You may also want to back up your personal information and important files, either to the cloud or to an external hard drive. That way, you will be able to recover your data in case of a potential security violation.
If you receive a suspicious email, text, or phone call, the most important thing to do is stay calm and think before you react. If you do get caught in a scam, don’t panic. First, collect all information related to the scam, including documents, receipts, copies of emails or text messages, and your financial information. Then contact your bank, credit card companies, or other necessary authorities to flag your accounts and change your passwords.
You can also help prevent COVID-19 scams by reporting them to the police or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (online or at 1-888-495-8501). Continue to monitor your accounts regularly and report any suspicious activity. And be sure to tell your family, friends and colleagues about any fraudulent emails, calls or texts to prevent others from becoming a victim.
Want to learn more about our Internet security service? Click here.