Caution Ahead – COVID-19 Scams
Clifford Clarke, PMP, CISM, CGEIT, CRISC, CSSGB
As an information technology security professional, I feel the warnings about cybersecurity and online scams are plentiful. However, all bets are off during a crisis. A family member asked about a specific website that was tracking the spread of the COVID-19 virus. I coached my family member to ensure the site they planned to visit for information is reputable. They suggested I share the information with others.
Does the world need another warning about cybersecurity and scams? Yes, especially during a time of crisis. Unfortunately, some people seek to profit from disasters and turmoil. Here are some essential tips for online safety.
Only visit reputable websites like .gov or a brand name .com or .org. Visit known news outlets or hospital sites. Some sites are created to collect information about the user or leave malicious programs on your computer or mobile device.
Buy from reputable sites. Consider the refund and customer satisfaction policies of the e-commerce site. If you can, use a credit card that provides purchase protection. If you don’t have a credit card, then use a debit card tied to an account with just enough funds to cover your purchases. Ensure the debit card does not accept requests above the amount in the account.
Although we in the United States live in a capitalistic economy, and scarcity does drive price, be suspicious when prices are outside the norm for the products you want. Is the price too high or too inexpensive? Although some price increase may be warranted, we frown upon price gouging. Pricing that is too low may hint at an inferior or knockoff product. The adage goes, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Be suspicious of new products and remedies. Criminals prey on fear. The United States has the benefit of controlled testing procedures, whether through the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Drug Administration, or other agencies. Don’t fall prey to fake charities and donation requests. Do your research.
Be careful about the amount of information you share on social media platforms. The terms of the usage are found online or before installation, which you must accept before installation. Sadly, application providers count on the fact that most users never read the end-user license agreement. The cost of free computer and mobile applications is usually your privacy.
Finally, be cautious of any website that promises to do something free, for a price. Be careful of promises to move you to the front of the line. The CARE Act Small Business Relief was recently signed by the President. Watch for scams that promise a guarantee of loan approval. These are usually scams.
Information security is a broad topic. There are many more things we can do to protect ourselves against cyber threats, but these tips are focused on the type of risks that arise in times of significant uncertainty. It is stressful to navigate this virus. Don’t let concerns turn to panic because panic blurs judgment. Review the tips above. Slow down before you click on a link. Ask a professional. Stay safe.