Cynical fraudsters cashing in on pandemic with new online scams 

History shows that times of adversity tend to bring out the best in people. This has proved to be the case during the current global crisis. The world’s news sites and social feeds are crammed with heartwarming stories about people going the extra mile to help those in need and to give their support to charitable causes when they need it most.

Yet there is always that small minority, that fraction of one percent, who see times like these as an opportunity to prey on the vulnerable for personal gain. Cybercrime is an area that is constantly changing, but recent events have given rise to some new variations on old scams being pursued by online fraudsters. 

A virus of a different kind

The first online scam related to COVID19 used one of the oldest online scams of all. An email purporting to be from the World Health Organization offered useful advice on “safety measures to protect yourself from coronavirus.”  All recipients had to do was click a link, but in doing so, they were exposed to a virus of a different kind. Clicking the apparently innocuous button to access the information installed malware that provided the fraudsters with access to personal data, including sensitive financial login credentials.

The advice here is simple. Never click on links within emails unless you know what they are, and even then, hover your curser over them to examine the url. If it looks suspicious, check the veracity of the sender before you do anything else. 

Game scams

We all have more time for online games at the moment. However, there is one craze that should be avoided at all cost. The circle game, sometimes called the Mandala Game or the Blessing Circle offers a guaranteed return on a small investment. That phrase alone should set alarm bells ringing, and the whole set-up is a classic pyramid-style scam that will leave anyone tempted to give it a try with empty pockets. 

Those who want to attempt to win some money in a game of chance have numerous opportunities to do so using reputable, licensed casino sites that are properly managed and licensed. If in doubt, always read online casino reviews to get independent information from third parties and those who have actually played the games. 

Free giveaways

Even more cynical are the scams disguised as good deeds in difficult times. Organizations ranging from Amazon to Heineken have been impersonated in fake giveaway offers. An email, WhatsApp message or SMS will offer free gifts including bottles of hand sanitizer or casks of beer. All they have to do is fill out a “short questionnaire.” Of course, the objective is to obtain sensitive personal data, and the free gift never appears. 

The simple lesson to be learned here is that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Sure, some businesses use giveaways as a marketing tool, but when they do so, it is unlikely to be from an unsolicited email or message. Check the source of the offer and investigate it online (for example by typing “Amazon scam” or “Heineken scam” into Google).

Protect the vulnerable

Seasoned internet users might laugh at the idea of being taken in by scams like these. However, they are not the targets. The elderly and vulnerable are spending far more time online at the moment. It is the responsibility of the 99.9 percent to ensure they are protected from the cynical and opportunistic minority. 

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