Nidhi Razdan’s recent experience as a victim of phishing is a reminder for all of us to be wary during our indulgent use of the Internet.
The journalist had announced in June last year that she would be quitting her 21-year long career with NDTV as a journalist. She explained that she had been offered a teaching position at Harvard University as an Associate Professor of Journalism, and had accepted it.
Eight months later, Razdan realized and announced that her appointment by Harvard University was in reality an “elaborate and sophisticated phishing attack”. She believes that in the months since she received the email from Harvard, her bank account, emails, medical records, passport, personal data, and devices, have been accessed and compromised.
When the scammers got in touch with Razdan about a teaching vacancy at Harvard in early 2020, all of her basic background checks held up. After a “thorough and professional” 90 minute interview, she was sent an offer letter that was complete with the University insignia, and “signatures” of real Harvard University officials. The scammers went so far as to contact her former employers at NDTV for recommendation letters.
Whenever things seemed irregular, Razdan said she justified them as “being reflective of the new normal being dictated by the pandemic.”
It was only when she finally contacted the Dean for clarity, that she realized the correspondences were all fake.
With the pandemic making us dismiss gaps in communication, and spend more and more time online, this elaborate scam experienced by Razdan reminds us to be more careful during our time online.
Here are some prevalent online scams you need to watch out for.
1. Job Offer/ Work-From-Home Scams
Just last week, The Atlantic published an article titled ‘India Has A Fake-Jobs Problem’ – something that has only avalanched out of control during the pandemic.
The article recounts the experience of a woman in New Delhi was contacted by a “recruiter” through the popular job website Naukri.com. She was told that the job was hers. All she had to do was show her commitment by sending a security deposit that would be refunded. Worried about not finding another job, she agreed, and never heard back from them.
While India’s job fraud industry has been operating for years, the scammers have found it particularly easy to feed on people’s fear during the pandemic and its rampant job losses.
Stay vigilant during your job search. Do an in-depth background check of each organization you’re applying to.
Look out for red flags. If a job claims to ask for no skills, offers high pay for little to no work, refuses to have an in-person interview, or asks for money upfront – these are all warning signs of a scam.
2. Phishing Email Scams
Much like Nidhi Razdan, anyone can fall for a sophisticatedly executed phishing attack. Phishing is a fraud where cyber criminals send messages or emails to people, to trick them into giving away valuable and sensitive data.
According to a study by F-secure, most security risk incidents in organisations happen because of phishing emails sent to employees.
Employees at our own organization have received, and fortunately avoided, phishing emails sent by a fake-email ID in our manager’s name, asking for some money to be sent urgently. When the instructions come from an apparent authority figure, people are more likely to oblige.
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Additionally, malicious attachments in phishing emails can infect your device.
Have a strong anti-virus on all your devices, and if you receive irregular messages from people you know, always contact them directly before believing its content.
3. Online Dating Scam
With more and more people joining dating apps during the pandemic, their popularity has gone up drastically. With this popularity, has come the rise of online romance scammers as well.
The scammers will develop a romantic relationship with the victim online. The virtual relationship can sometimes even last for many months, in order to build trust. The scam usually begins with extortion of money by asking for small gifts. The gifts will usually be justified as helping the relationship, like to buy a webcam or a new phone. This will gradually lead to larger extortions of money like for travel costs so they can meet the victim.
Always do social media checks of people you meet on online dating sites. Before you get emotionally invested, do everything possible to ensure they are who they say they are.
4. Fake Antivirus Scams
In an ironic twist, scammers also often implant viruses through fake anti-virus softwares. The psychology is that users are less likely to suspect an anti-virus of having a virus.
Antivirus scams can happen through pop-ups, e-mails, or text messages. Today, a lot of antivirus scams also use fonts and logos from companies like Apple or Microsoft to seem legitimate. The scam takes place when you pay for the fake software, and when the malware accesses your personal information.
Do your own research before purchasing or downloading an antivirus software. Do not simply trust an ad.
According to Norton, here are a few major red flags to look out for –
- The pop-up makes the virus sound catastrophic
- Urges you to act now to avoid further damage and loss of information
- The pop-ups are difficult to close and often triggers more pop-ups
- The software company is unknown to you
- The ad states they are scanning your computer now, then will start listing fake viruses
5. Fake Shopping Site Scam
As recent as today, the Mumbai Police busted a fraudulent online shopping racket. The Mumbai Police took to Twitter to release a list of shopping sites that had been exposed as fake.
The shopping websites are often slick and appealing in their design. The scammers may even pay to put up ads on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Links on the site may lead to malware. The sites could also take people’s money and their credit/debit card information in the name of selling them products.
Here are a few tips by The Economic Times to spot and avoid fake shopping sites.
Keep these in mind to make the most of the Internet’s perks while being vigilant of the risks that come with it.
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