Covid-19 fraud is real

30 Jan, 2022 - 00:01 0 Views
Covid-19 fraud is real

The Sunday Mail

Dr Proctor Nyemba

THE coronavirus outbreak is first and foremost a human tragedy, affecting millions of people. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared this outbreak a pandemic and a public health emergency. The warning bells are ringing! From regulators, law enforcement agencies, and consumer organisations around the globe, the message is clear: Fraudulent schemes related to the coronavirus have arrived and fraud is surely an inevitable symptom of the Covid-19 pandemic.

During disasters, people tend to let their guard down on normal routines because they are busy worrying about how to stay alive. The combination of financial and health threats make people more vulnerable and creates opportunities for fraudsters. It seems that Covid-19 is a perfect storm for fraudsters and as such, people are driven typically by greed and financial hardship, and motivated by opportunity. Below is a list of the current and potential Covid-19 scams

Phishing scams

Due to Covid-19, phishing scams have increased. This is whereby fraudsters are claiming to be members of reputed health organisations and are targeting the public with emails including malicious attachments, links regarding the spread of the virus, maps of the outbreak and ways to protect the victims from the exposure. Once opened, such attachments or links can infect the computer with malware and transmit data to the hacker.

Investment scams

Investment scams claiming significant returns from investing in a company that is developing services or products that can prevent and cure Covid-19 are likely to arise.

Covid-19 fraudulent websites

According to multiple reports, cybercriminals are now creating and sending out thousands of coronavirus-related websites daily. Thousands of new domains containing Covid-19 have been registered and are being used maliciously.

Supply scams

Taking advantage of the current supply shortages, fraudsters have established fake online shops that supply sanitisers, gloves, surgical masks and other non-existent Covid-19 protection equipment purporting to prevent and cure Covid-19. After the payment is made, the fraudsters pocket the money and never supply these commodities to the public.

False charity

In times of crisis, people feel a sense of responsibility to donate to the underprivileged and fraudsters prey on this desire by creating fraudulent charities that claim to help individuals who are affected by the virus. The fraudsters also make false claims to contribute towards the development of a vaccine.

Superannuation fraud

Most of the expected Covid-19 related superannuation scams will involve an email, SMS or phone call from someone impersonating a representative of an official organisation, such as a superannuation company, the Government or a financial institution. These scams will predominantly target the elderly and those close to retirement as well as identity theft.

Employee fraud

In the current situation, every company is looking for savings, and one of the immediate measures is to cut jobs or reduce payments to employees. As experience has shown, for some employees this may create an incentive to commit fraud. The employees who are working from home are also likely to spend a considerable amount of ‘work time’ on non-employer related activities.

How to practice fraud hygiene

Below are some of the best practices to prevent you from becoming an unsuspecting victim:

Never donate to charities via links in emails; instead, make a contribution on the charity’s website. Follow fundraising platforms’ guidance on how to recognise and report fraudulent charities.

Hover your mouse over a link to determine if it is genuine. Don’t click if it looks suspicious.

Never respond to any email that asks for personal or sensitive information.

Be careful of any suspicious/phishing email requesting policy renewals/premium payments.

Be wary of emails from counterfeit websites that try to appear like they are large organisations. Visit their official website of the large organisations, to ensure that you do not fall prey to the fake ones. For instance, the only call for donations that WHO has issued is the Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund. Any other appeal for funding or donations that appears to be from WHO is a scam.

Don’t panic in case of warning/threatening emails. Read carefully and then act.

Use different passwords for different sites and don’t provide personal information in pop-ups.

Encrypt special files and data and avoid opening unexpected attachments

Keep your system updated with patches and Antivirus.

Be aware of fake online shops which use non-traditional payment methods such as money orders, fund transfers or gift cards. Don’t use any shortcuts to make the payments. Log into official websites to make the payments.

Stay informed of the investment scams and trends in relation to Covid-19, such as schemes offering discounts on products or companies who claim to provide drugs that prevent Covid-19.

In times like this, it becomes easy for cyber criminals to entice and create panic among unsuspecting users by inviting them to click links and attachments via emails and messages. All you need is awareness and alertness while dealing with such emails to avoid cyber-attacks or fraud.

Cybersecurity and privacy considerations for remote work environment

As the coronavirus spreads, most companies have shifted to remote working practices to keep employees safe during the pandemic, as a consequence this has placed unanticipated stress on remote networking technologies in addition to bandwidth and security concerns. The majority of organisations are not experienced with such a rapid culture shift; therefore, they should continually monitor access to prevent any potential security vulnerabilities.

Further, there is a need for organisations to consider the following risks before employees are given the option to work remotely:

  • Unsafe Wi-Fi networks

Employees may be connecting to a home wireless network or accessing corporate accounts using an unsecured public/personal Wi-Fi, thereby allowing the fraudsters nearby the ability to easily penetrate and monitor the connection and steal confidential information.

  • Personal devices for work

There is a possibility of employees transferring files between work and personal computers when working from home. IT departments need to be completely aware of issues that may arise whilst employees are using their personal devices for work-related matters. Additionally, not keeping the software up to date could provide security weaknesses within the IT environment.

Ignoring physical security

Physical security is important when it comes to a company’s sensitive information. As remote working provides for an increased risk of data leakage, a reminder must be provided to employees not to expose or allow business data to be compromised. Companies must also ensure that secure and appropriate IT controls are in place for data-protection.

Best practices for remote working

The coronavirus crisis has accelerated digitisation and has further reinforced the trend towards working from home. Below are some of the best practices when working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic:

Communication is the key

A standard communication schedule is very important to keep remote teams together despite being physically distanced. Daily team meetings provide an opportunity for members to connect personally and share their experiences. Employees working remotely can use various communication mediums such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom or WebEx video conferencing platforms for better collaboration. They must also use common secure platforms to manage projects and documents with their co-workers and clients.

Close the loop

It is a best practice to follow up after every call with a summary of the information covered, decisions agreed upon in the call, and accountability and ownership for next steps. This helps to confirm that even in a dispersed work from home environment, everyone left the call with the same understanding.

Identify a dedicated workspace

A dedicated workspace is a key aspect of working from home. You can replicate your office environment by keeping aside a dedicated area that feels like your professional zone. You should also position your workspace in such a way that you can concentrate and have the resources you need. As organisations embrace remote working arrangements, the lines between personal and professional time can blur. It is very important to understand and respect working hours of others while allowing for flexibility wherever needed.

Plan ahead

It can become easy for employees to fall into the trap of excessive short-term thinking during a crisis. Therefore, it’s good to schedule some time with yourself to map out your week, month, and/or quarter ahead. What’s coming up? While nobody knows just how long this Covid-19 situation will last, doing as much long-term planning as possible will indeed be beneficial. While an unprecedented event like Covid-19 as a global pandemic has made “work from home” the new normal, organisations should leverage trust, flexibility, focus, transparency, empathy and technology as the tools to enable effective remote collaboration. These practices and tips can be useful for setting up a successful work arrangement and together we can face the future with confidence.

  • Dr Proctor Nyemba is a holder of a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Applied Forensic Auditing & Accounting, Investigation & Fraud Examination. He is also a Corporate Governance Guru, Certified Project Director, White-Collar Criminologist, Forensic Investigator and Fraud Examination Guru, among other titles.

He can be contacted on [email protected]


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