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Cybercriminals use COVID-19 pandemic as a screen for illicit activities

Cybercriminals use COVID-19 pandemic as a screen for illicit activities

Lara Burger, Country Manager of TransUnion Namibia, said cybercriminals are using the pandemic as a screen for their activities, sending emails and text messages from seemingly legitimate organisations with information about COVID-19 or financial improvement schemes.

In the past few months, fraudsters have been active on social media and public platforms to try and hook unsuspecting individuals.

According to Burger, once people click on the links in emails or text messages, they unknowingly download software which allows criminals to take control of their devices and access their personal information and financial data, which could lead to identity theft.

She added that on websites, they are scammed into buying fake or non-existent products, or investing into fake property purchases or employment offers. There has also been a sharp rise in the fraudulent offers to ‘fix’ negative credit reports.

“Identity theft is a huge problem in Namibia. The problem with this type of crime is that victims only find out about the theft months later, by which time fraudsters would have obtained false lines of credit and racked up significant debt in their name,” said Burger.

Burger gives the following tips to protect one against fraud and identity theft:

Never click on a link, or provide your sensitive information

Phishing is a major part of identity theft and fraud, warned Burger. “You’ll get an official-looking email from a bank or other organisation, offering you information or asking you to verify some aspect of your account. Don’t do it. No reputable company will ever ask to verify details by clicking on a link in an email,” she said.

Stick to legitimate sites for online shopping

The restrictions in movement have resulted in a surge in online shopping, as people look to buy everything from groceries to books to airtime. “Check that there’s an ‘https’ in the web address and an icon of a locked padlock on the left side of the URL. The ‘s’ stands for secure and means the site can be trusted. Don’t just click on links in mails offering you ‘too-good-to-be-true’ deals: check it out first,” said Burger.

Secure your online identity now

Make sure you have strong passwords for important accounts such as your banking, online shopping and email. Change them regularly and don’t use the same password for all your online profiles. Where possible, use two-factor authentication to make it harder for scammers to gain access to your accounts.

Keep checking your transaction alerts

The best way to check if your identity and credit is safe is to check your credit report, bank and card statements. Fraudsters are especially active at a time of crisis, when people are distracted. Keep track of what is on your credit report for signs of suspicious activity, such as accounts that you don’t recognise or credit checks from companies with which you’ve never done business.

Nobody can ‘fix’ your credit record

Online advertisements promising to rehabilitate indebted consumers’ credit records for a fee are scams. No unauthorised company or lawyer can simply remove negative data from the credit bureau, regardless of how much you pay them. Consumers should contact TransUnion directly if they wish to dispute any information on their credit report.

It is also important to check that the service provider is a legitimate, registered business. This can be done through the National Credit Regulator’s website, as all legitimate debt counsellors must be registered.

“Be wary of any business or lawyer claiming to work for the credit bureau, and phone the credit bureau directly to confirm this,” said Burger. “And remember: a legitimate business is unlikely to communicate with clients via WhatsApp; use non-business e-mail, such as Yahoo mail or Gmail; or use e-wallet transfers,” she concluded.


About The Author

Donald Matthys

Donald Matthys has been part of the media fraternity since 2015. He has been working at the Namibia Economist for the past three years mainly covering business, tourism and agriculture. Donald occasionally refers to himself as a theatre maker and has staged two theatre plays so far. Follow him on twitter at @zuleitmatthys

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