Be wary: the pandemic offers fraudsters a golden opportunity

For responsible citizens like most of us, washing our hands regularly and observing the lockdown measures will be our primary acts of vigilance against the pandemic. But some people will always find ways to exploit exceptional circumstances, and there is a further complication we should be vigilant against, too: fraud.

Coronavirus makes fraud much easier to perpetrate. Panic caused by the pandemic can make us think less clearly, and therefore make us more susceptible to pressure over the phone and to misinterpreting legitimate vs. illegitimate agents.

Here’s an example. You receive a call from your mobile network operator. They tell you that your account has been closed due to non-payment because of an expired debit card. He explains that the operator’s debt collection department is working from home due to coronavirus.

Such a call may not necessarily be suspect – but it would be easy to pull off fraud in this context. The man on the phone does not necessarily need to work for the operator to know that the debt collection department would be working from home – this would constitute external fraud. But there is also the possibility for internal fraud, in which someone who works for the network operator exploits their situation of working from home where there are fewer controls on phishing for card details.

If something like this happens to you, remember:

  • Don’t be fooled when people apply pressure on you, regardless of context;
  • If someone calls you and it sounds credible, go to their website and make your payment online, or call a number provided yourself;
  • Check whether someone is calling from home or not;
  • Even if the call is legitimate, you may prefer to avoid giving them your card details since they are in an uncontrolled environment;
  • Continue to be alert to emails with links to fraudulent website addresses.

Keep well and stay safe.

Harry Smithson, 26th March 2020