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Vodafone warns customers as online scams increase due to COVID-19

Online scams are increasing with scammers taking advantage of the current COVID-19 outbreak, as internet usage increased by 20-50% during the lockdown period. 

In response, Vodafone New Zealand is urging its customers to be more vigilant on digital channels.

The telco provider says it has approximately 80 security experts who are monitoring and responding to constantly changing threats, plus an international network of more than 70 partner companies worldwide working to combat increased scam attempts. 

However, New Zealanders can play a large role in staying cyber safe from COVID-19 scams, it says.

Colin James, Vodafone NZ head of cyber security, has been a Netsafe board member since 2014 and works with other New Zealand organisations to respond at an industry level, as well as leading the company’s response for customers.

"It is unfortunate that at times like this there are global fraudsters who will take advantage of COVID-19 fears for malicious gain. Through our threat intelligence sources we have identified a number of scams that are currently on the rounds and our security teams are continually putting controls in place to block the content," James says.
 
"While we’re doing everything we can on our side, we also need New Zealanders to help protect themselves, and explain to friends and family why they need to be even more vigilant than usual,” he explains.

The Vodafone Consumer Insights Survey, conducted by Colmar Brunton in February, highlighted more than two-thirds (69%) of New Zealanders were concerned about their personal data being subject to a data breach, with consumers over 55 years old significantly more likely to be concerned (76%).

While 8 in 10 New Zealanders (80%) said they would stop using a product or service if they had privacy concerns – the vast majority (83%) of New Zealanders believed businesses, individuals and government are all equally responsible for ensuring security of personal data online – a message that Vodafone is trying to highlight as people spend additional time online during Level 4 lockdown.

“Scammers are opportunistic and will take advantage of any situation for their own gains. Sadly, the current COVID-19 situation has created a considerable avenue for them to exploit, as they prey on people’s fears or need for information. We urge New Zealanders to remain vigilant and check the sender of any messages closely as the first protection against scams," says James.

James highlights that there are three key COVID-19 related scams doing the rounds, which the industry including CERT has identified:

Text message scams
“There have been a number of reports of COVID-19 themed scam text messages that have a link that claims to direct people to testing facilities. Although these have come mostly out of Australia, there is no reason New Zealand related scams wouldn’t be started as well," he says. 

"The link contained in these messages is not legitimate and instead may install malware (malicious software) on your device that’s designed to steal your personal information, such as banking details.”

Phishing emails claiming to have updated COVID-19 information
“Intelligence from the UK has highlighted that individuals have been targeted by coronavirus-themed phishing emails, with infected attachments containing fictitious 'safety measures’. Instead of the attachments containing health information, it instead installs malicious software on your device that’s designed to steal personal information," says James.

“We’ve also been made aware of similar emails being circulated internationally that encourage people to fill in their email and password before they can get information on COVID-19. These are not legitimate, and instead are again an attempt to steal personal information," he says.

Fake coronavirus maps
“Security researchers have identified a number of campaigns where the attackers claim to have ‘coronavirus maps’ that people can download onto their devices," says James. 

"Instead, these maps contain malware, designed to steal sensitive information from the device it is downloaded onto, such as passwords.”

Other responses from the February 2020 Colmar Brunton data privacy survey include:

·       Almost half of New Zealanders worry about money being stolen from them (49%) – or their privacy being compromised (49%). 

·       Despite being concerned about privacy information, more than half of New Zealanders (53%) say they re-use passwords across multiple account.

“It’s important to never re-use passwords, no matter what the account. Re-using passwords makes it easier for scammers to access your personal information across multiple accounts. This is an industry-wide issue and not an easy one to solve, so everyone needs to play their part," James explains.

Martin Cocker, Netsafe CEO adds, “COVID-19 means people are relying more and more on their devices and the internet to stay connected. While in most cases this presents a great chance to stay socially connected, this unfortunately presents opportunities for scammers to exploit New Zealanders.

“There is no ethical line that scammers will not cross," he says. 

'We urge New Zealanders to do their due diligence, especially when it comes to online communications asking people to download programmes or input their passwords. Please remain vigilant and only download programmes and open emails from trusted sources.”