Be on guard against coronavirus-related scams

Global information and insights company TransUnion has warned South Africans to be on their guard against coronavirus-related scams, with criminals taking advantage of the increased number of people looking for information about the disease to defraud them or steal their personal details.

Kriben Reddy, vice president of TransUnion Africa’s consumer division, said cybercriminals were exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic as a screen for their activities, sending emails and text messages from seemingly legitimate organisations with information about the COVID-19. In the past month, fraudsters have created more than 1000 unique websites a day related to the virus.

Once people click on the links in emails or text messages, they unknowingly download software which allows cybercriminals to take control of their computers and access their personal information and financial data, which could lead to identity theft. On the websites, they are scammed into buying fake or non-existent products.

“Identity theft is a huge problem in South Africa. According, to TransUnion research, nearly half of South African consumers have either fallen victim to identity theft, or know someone who has. The problem with identity theft is that victims typically only find out about the theft months later – by which time someone can easily have obtained false lines of credit and racked up significant debt in their name,” said Reddy.

To avoid turning the lockdown into a long and stressful fight to reclaim your stolen identity, follow these tips to protect yourself against identity theft.

Never click on a link, or provide your sensitive information

Phishing is a major part of identity theft and fraud, warned Reddy. “You’ll get an official-looking email from a bank or information provider, 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 in an email. And never, ever, click on any link in an email, no matter how legitimate it looks,” he said.

Stick to legitimate sites for online shopping

The lockdown has seen 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 Reddy.

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 bank and card statements and credit reports. Fraudsters are especially active at a time of crisis, when people are distracted. Until the end of July, TransUnion is offering a Free Credit Score, Report and Profile alerts. These alerts notify users if there are any critical changes in their credit profile, 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.

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