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In the twenty-first century, cyber security has become one of the world’s major potential threats, both to individuals and leading companies and businesses. It’s something most of us have been wary and cautious of for a long time, but during COVID-19 lockdown, the threat has increased even more, and businesses, building societies and banks have been quick and consistent with messages warning customers to be vigilant.

For many years, the danger with cyber security has been the incredible rate of advancement in technology, and the way criminals can take advantage of this. In the last few months however, the increased risk has not been due to a change in technology, but an increase in the opportunity for scammers.

As such, scams have not been limited to the online world. There have been reports of scams as varied as criminals targeting older people on their doorstep, offering to do their shopping, then taking their money and not returning; fake cleaning services offering to clean drives and doorways to kill bacteria and help prevent the spread of the virus; and fake sanitisers, face masks and Covid19 swabbing kits being sold door-to-door.

With people at home all day, there has also been an increase in telephone scams, including criminals claiming to be banks, mortgage lenders or utility companies. There have even been reports of thieves extorting money from consumers by claiming they are collecting donations for a COVID-19 ‘vaccine’.

As always, however, some of the most dangerous scams exist online. There have been regular reports of Email scams that trick people into opening malicious attachments, which put people at risk of identity theft. Some of these emails have lured people to click on attachments by offering information about people in the local area who are affected by coronavirus. There have also been fake online resources – such as false Coronavirus Maps – that deliver malware such as AZORult Trojan, an information stealing program which can infiltrate a variety of sensitive data.

Other online dangers have been an increase of the usual tricks, and freelance and self-employed workers have been warned that they may be particular targets. Lawyers and cyber security experts have warned that Con artists have set their sights on those claiming under the self-employed income support scheme, which provides grants to freelancers.

The threat here lies not in the nature of the scam itself (the threat of being led to an official looking website and being asked to fill in personal details, including bank account information, is one that many people have encountered) but in the fact that freelance workers are more accustomed to having higher levels of interaction with the tax authority and may believe that such contact is natural in teh current climate.

how to protect yourself from cyber crime

Although the risk of cyber crime may be up, the good news is that the guidance of how to stay safe hasn’t changed. There are still simple steps you can take to protect yourself online. It’s important to keep anti-virus software up to date; and using strong, varied passwords, with a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols is still crucial. Then, always log out of any online accounts you’ve logged on to, be it on your phone or laptop.

More than ever it’s best not to post personal information – such as your address, date of birth or maiden name – online. Finally, be alert to the possibility of scam e-mails coming into your inbox: watch out for suspicious e-mail addresses and subject lines.

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