BY Fast Company 3 MINUTE READ

Due to the social distancing and lockdown regulations imposed worldwide, most of the daily activities we’ve become accustomed to have moved online – from work and school to grocery shopping, medical appointments, banking and even socialising. It’s all happening in the palm of our hands through our smartphones or laptops. Unfortunately, this increase in online traffic has given rise to hackers and scammers seeking to benefit off your personal information and extract money out of you without you even realising.

Whether they come via email, text message, automated calls or suspicious domains, these scams are set up as though they are credible sources – and these days, are using the coronavirus pandemic as leverage to appear even more legitimate. In fact, scammers are getting creative with their approaches, using Covid-19 to trick people into installing malware on their devices, sending them into unsuspecting phishing websites, or even selling the blood or saliva of a Covid-19 survivor on the dark web, claiming it to be a ‘cure’.

While not all scams are this elaborate, there are many going around – and most are so subtle they might even slide right past you if you aren’t aware of the signs. Here are some common ones to look out for:

South Africa has been plagued with shocking incidents of criminals posing as healthcare workers from the governments’ mobile testing units initiative, and then robbing the homes or people they come into contact with. Thus, do not let anyone into your home unless you have proof that they are who they claim to be.

In addition, scammers are taking advantage of peoples’ anxiety about contracting COVID-19 and are using it to try and swindle them out of money. From selling miracle cures and body fluids of survivors, to posing as health professionals to sell coronavirus test kits, the internet is alive with people hoping to make a quick buck off the pandemic. It’s important to verify with your doctor before taking any supplements or medicine intended to protect you from the virus, and do not buy any kits or equipment unless they are verified and from a legal source. Do not give out your details to anyone online, via the phone or in real life, unless you are 100% certain you know them.

Technical support services has made its natural move onto the online space, and working from home also means we now run into more technical problems than before. Enter scammers pretending to be telephone or tech support, and requesting your personal details.

Reportedly, the fastest way to get caught in this web is to simply google tech support companies online. Clicking on the wrong link might take to a risky phishing website. Instead, rather get your information from the company’s official website. Triple check to make sure that the website you are on is in fact official. Checking links to social media pages and paying close attention to the domain address is another way of doing this.

In this time of crisis, a lot of people are in need, and even more people are feeling generous and opening up their hearts – and wallets to the less fortunate. Unfortunately, this has given scammers a new opportunity for making money. Crowdsourcing campaigns, fake charities and non-profit donation requests are just some of the ways swindlers are taking advantage Covid-19. To protect yourself, do a thorough background check on the organisations or campaigns you wish to donate to.

This one is original but frighteningly alarming. Some hackers have used the new working-from-home norm as an opportunity to break into networks and email accounts and send authentic-sounding messages to fellow employees. It’s easier than ever before since employees are no longer in close proximity to each other and communicate using solely these channels. Scammers are also known to impersonate company info centres, asking for personal information such as passwords for fictional verifications.

A quick verification over a voice call is your safest bet, and report to HR or your colleagues if you are concerned about anything suspicious. Again, don’t hand over any information unless you’re sure of the source of the email.

Small-to-medium enterprises the world over are searching for lifelines to keep their businesses afloat – and scammers are making the most of this desperation. Many of the options available are confusing, with complex application processes and slow turn-around time. This has given scammers the opportunity to come up with simpler, less stringent offers for relief for small businesses at a small fee. Some are posing as admin sites to help you navigate the application process, charging a fee and then disappearing once they have received the money. Then there are others who claim to be reps from banks, investors or debt collectors, all offering relief – but only in exchange for your personal financial information.

Similarly, there are also scams claiming to be correspondence from SARS regarding tax payments upon submission of information. Be extra vigilant when making sure the correspondence is legit.

We are now living in a time where our whole lives have literally moved online, and data is a valuable commodity. Always be cautious, vigilant and aware when it comes to unsolicited requests for personal and especially financial information.