Both Citizens Advice and Action Fraud have reported huge increases in online scams since the pandemic began. More people working from home or on furlough and increases in e-commerce have contributed to this. The pandemic has also provided cyber criminals with a whole new range of concerns and vulnerabilities to exploit.
In addition to that, there are now readily available software tools to enable them to crack our passwords, spoof emails and telephone numbers, and create realistic websites to mimic genuine companies.
Fraudsters have been quick to see the potential for scams in shortages of PPE, fake NHS vaccine bookings, delivery scams, threats for non-payment of tax and offers to provide driver’s licences without having to sit a test. So long as you don’t fall for them, you can’t help but grudgingly admire their ingenuity.
In contrast, despite 81% of British people fearing that they or their friends or family will become victims of cyber-crime, many are still failing to protect themselves in even the most basic way. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) reports that 15% use their pet’s name as the password for their online accounts, 14% use a family members name, 13% use a significant date and 6% use their favourite sports team or the word “password” as part or all of their password.
The NCSC recommend using three random words to create a strong password that is hard to crack but easy enough for people to manage. They offer guidance on how to do this and also recommend saving passwords in your browser and turning on 2 factor authentication. It’s also important to use a separate password for each account, especially for your email account, which is the gateway to so many other accounts.
Reports of hacks of social media accounts or email were up 50% last year and reports of computer viruses and malware were up by 40%. The financial and emotional fallout from this can be devastating, and image-based websites like Instagram and Snapchat can be used to obtain intimate images in order to blackmail the account holder. Fraudsters are agile and we need to keep up. Children and adults alike need to secure their accounts, keep devices updated with the latest security updates and be alert to scams.
An unfortunate further risk of frauds and scams is the criminals’ need to launder their proceeds of crime. One of their tactics is to recruit vulnerable people to become money mules – allowing their bank accounts to be used to transfer funds in return for keeping some of the money themselves. Young people who are struggling to find work can be tempted by job ads for “money transfer agents” or “local processors” which offer easy money for facilitating these transfers. It’s important they know that it is illegal, that their actions may be aiding serious crimes such as people trafficking or terrorism, and that banks have sophisticated systems to identify suspicious transactions. If caught, a young person can find their future is damaged by prosecution and a damaged credit rating.
Weak passwords are the equivalent of leaving your door key under the mat. Have some fun thinking up some truly random words – make them different for each account and save them in your browser or stow them in a safe place away from your device. It could save you time, money and an awful lot of angst.