How criminals are trying to steal your ID during Covid-19

Everybody’s worried about the health risks and economic stress of Covid-19. Unfortunately, that’s not all we have to worry about: criminals are using the pandemic to try and steal your ID and personal details.

Here are some of the more common tactics they are using.

Email and text scams

Scammers use whatever means they can to grab our attention – and right now, that’s Covid-19. They send emails pretending to be from companies or organisations you know, like SARS offering a tax refund if you click on a link, or text messages that appear to be from the World Health Organisation (WHO), offering fake health advice. They will even pretend to be from charities providing meals and shelter for the needy.

Be careful. Most of these messages are attempts to harvest your personal information, which can then be used to access money in your name.

Fake app downloads

Scammers are trying to get people to download apps, or click links, on unofficial websites, and will then try to steal your money or information. They offer apps that promise updates and advice on Covid-19, but instead install malicious software on your mobile phone or your computer that locks your device until you pay the fraudsters a fee, or allows them to access your personal information.

Fake online shopping sites

You’ll get an email, or a text message, offering you unbelievable deals on consumer goods. When you visit the site and make a purchase, they will simply disappear with your money without ever delivering any goods, or they will make you click on links that install malware on your device and expose your personal information.

Don’t think you’re safe. Every day, people who think they are too clever to be caught out get fooled in this way. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world: experts believe that someone's identity is stolen somewhere in the world every two seconds. According to TransUnion’s quarterly analysis of global online fraud trends, there were more than 100 million suspected fraudulent transactions in the period from March 11 - April 28.

Common assumption is that fraudsters target older generations, who are perceived to be less digitally capable. That isn’t true. TransUnion’s data shows that Millennials and Gen Z’ers (those born in or after 1995) are targeted the most. Often, you’ll only find out about it months later, when you start getting accounts and letters of demand for debts that you know nothing about, or when your own application for credit is refused because your credit record is in tatters.

So, what can you do?

  • Be careful of suspicious text messages and emails, and don’t click on links and attachments.
  • Check out the company before you buy online. Look at reviews from other shoppers. Google the company name and the words ‘fraud’ or ‘scam’.
  • Be careful of approaches from charities, travel agents, insurance companies or banks offering you great deals or refunds. If you’re not sure, contact the company first on a verified phone number.
  • Register for your credit score, credit report and profile alerts from TransUnion. They will notify you if there are any changes or enquiries on your credit profile.

Here’s the bottom line: if you’re a modern consumer who lives and works in the digital world, you must be proactive. Educate yourself around the risks of online fraud, and put measures in place to protect yourself. You pay for car and house insurance to manage your risks, and you should be doing exactly the same with your online presence.

Be safe out there.