Don’t get fooled by COVID-19 cyber-scams

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Avoiding the fraudsters

The COVID-19 pandemic closed thousands of businesses, left millions without work, and brought about fear and uncertainty unlike anything many of us have ever experienced. Unfortunately, it’s during these vulnerable times that nefarious cyber-scammers look for opportunities to take advantage of others.

With all the worry and stress, how to avoid cyber-scams isn’t something that crosses the minds of most people.  Scammers are not just targeting individuals, either. With many small businesses struggling, cyber-criminals are looking at ways to prey on small business owners.

How to avoid cyber-scams

A survey conducted by TransUnion found that 38% of SA consumers surveyed reported that they have been a target of digital fraud related to COVID-19, with 5% falling victim to a scam.  With the right know-how, you can protect yourself, your private information and your small business from scammers.

Know the types of cyber-scams out there

Scammers are surprisingly diverse and creative in how they target small businesses. Many go out of their way to seem legitimate and copy the tone and branding of government agencies or reputable organisations like your bank. A few common scams to look out for include:

  • Phishing scamsthat try to get you to click on links that will then download malware onto your computer. This malware can take control of your computer and hold the information hostage or access your private accounts.
  • Fake loan programsthat promise funding for small businesses but require payments to apply. These scams will often ask for sensitive bank information.
  • Government impersonator scamsclaiming that you owe money to SARS.
  • Fake companiesselling products like touchless thermometers or masks at incredibly low prices.

Naturally, these scams are just the tip of the iceberg. You may notice other suspicious activity or scams online that are used to take your money or personal information.

If something sounds too good — or bad — to be true, it probably is.

Take a second to evaluate and research any email, text or call that you get before doing anything (that includes clicking a link).

Follow the guidelines

The Federal Trade Commission in the US has some helpful guidelines that you can refer to if you are concerned about a potential scam. They have a dedicated page for protecting your small business with common tactics and small business cybersecurity training resources for your team. Your bank might also have some useful resources on its website.

When in doubt, wait the scammer out

If there’s one key piece of advice to follow when avoiding cyber-scams: never respond to them immediately. A scammer wants you to act out of fear.

They don’t want you to spend a few hours (or days) thinking the problem over. If you are concerned about a potential cyber-scam, research it. Ask people around you for advice.

Not only will this help you get second and third opinions while giving you time to calm down, but it also gives the scammer time to make a mistake and show that they aren’t legitimate.

If they send multiple suspicious follow-up messages or threaten you in any way, then you know that they aren’t serious.

As a small business owner, you aren’t the only one who needs to worry about how to avoid cyber-scams. Train your employees on the warning signs of a scam and how to report the problem to you.

Small business cybersecurity is important, and everyone needs to be on the same page. Everyone can work together to stop these scammers from preying on your business and others in your community.

TIP: During these times, your clients are also vulnerable to scams. When people visit a site that doesn’t have an SSL certificate, their browsers warn them: This connection is not secure. An SSL certificate gives your sites the padlock icon next to the URL in the address bar, showing your website can be trusted. Look at GoDaddy Security to find out how to make SSL certificates and other elements of website security easy.

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