Just as heartless money-grabbers set up fake bushfire scams over summer, so too have hackers eager to exploit our fear of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And this time we’re even more susceptible to being tricked.
That’s because we’re spending more time on the internet ticking off the day-to-day jobs that we would normally do in public to avoid bumping into sick people.
Online grocery sales in Australia have shot up by more than 45 per cent since the coronavirus reached our shores, research from ACNielsen Homescan shows.
Scammers are taking advantage of shoppers by falsely selling coronavirus products or setting up fake fundraising initiatives.
Advertisements selling so-called miracle cures and emails with subject lines like “COVID-19 Everything you need to know” and “Coronavirus Update” are popping up in inboxes around the nation.
Don’t click on them.
They have probably been sent by attackers looking for a breach in your computer or smartphone’s cyber defences.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commision’s (ACCC) Scamwatch website has received 31 coronavirus-related reports since January 1.
Keep an eye out for dodgy websites too – more than 4000 coronavirus-related domains that contain the words ‘corona’ or ‘covid’ have been registered since the beginning of 2020, reports Cybersecurity firm Check Point.
Roland Bleyer, founder of credit card comparison site creditcard.com.au, said there has been a “rise in scam websites marketing essential products and expensive miracle virus remedies” related to the coronavirus.
“Everyone needs to be on high alert,” Mr Bleyer said.
“While I am not an expert in the coronavirus, what I do know is that there is currently no known cure, so avoid clicking on any advertisements that offer miracle solutions.
“Some of these scams are also undertaking phishing expeditions, trying to get you to give them your personal information as well as credit card details.”
No legitimate business will ever send you an email asking you to verify your details through an online link.
If you receive an email asking you for your credit card details, delete and block immediately.
Cyber security expert Andrew Woodward, executive dean of science at Edith Cowan University, said our fear of the coronavirus was making us especially vulnerable to scams, including fraudulent health advice.
“It’s not just the financial aspect – it’s the spread of misinformation,” Professor Woodward told The New Daily.
“These cyber criminals potentially have a greater target population over the bushfires because the coronavirus affects everybody so more people are concerned and scared.”
In the United States, a guest who appeared on televangelist Jim Bakker’s show claimed drinking colloidal silver – tiny particles of the precious metal suspended in liquid – could kill some strains of coronavirus within 12 hours.
The potential ‘cure’ has been widely shared on Facebook, particularly by members of “medical freedom” groups who are deeply suspicious of mainstream medical advice.
“Some of these cyber criminals are trying to sell products that they claim will help people, when evidence suggests that it’s just not true,” Professor Woodward said.
Tips for protecting yourself from online scams
- Don’t click on links, or open attachments, from suspect senders
- Only buy online groceries from reputable supermarkets like Woolworths, Aldi, Costco or Coles
- Avoid clicking on pop-up advertisements on your social media pages
- Check the URL of the business you’re shopping with
- Never provide your credit card or bank account details via email
- Don’t send money to anyone threatening you with extortion – contact the police
- Use strong passwords and don’t reuse passwords across different accounts. A password manager can help with this
- Set up two-factor authentication
- Visit Have I Been Pwned to check whether your email account has been breached, and change your passwords if so
- Review your financial statements, and if you spot a suspicious transaction, report it immediately
- To report a cybersecurity issue visit https://www.cyber.gov.au/report.