Cybersecurity tips for your home office during the COVID-19 pandemic

Originally Published by Toronto Sun
Author: Rita DeMontis 

With COVID-19 in full tilt across the world, fraud may be the last thing to worry about. Yet March is Fraud Prevention Month and, according to the Competition Bureau of Canada, Canadians lost nearly $100 million to reported scams in 2019 alone.

(Fraud Prevention Month is an annual campaign that presents a chance to raise awareness about fraudulent activity, which can be especially important now that data security may seem less of a priority. March is an especially important month given it’s tax season.)

Experts can’t stress enough the importance of being hyper vigilant of your financial and personal data, especially during these complex times. And consumers are falling behind, an example being credit card fraud. Equifax Canada (a national credit card monitoring company) reports a new trend that sees some people slacking off about checking their credit reports to help detect fraudulent activity.

Many see social isolation and various life changes increasing their vulnerability to financial fraud. For everyone working from home now, fraud and identity theft are closer than you think.

With most work being conducted remotely, “we are potentially more susceptible to data fraud for a variety of reasons,” says Michael Borromeo, vice-president of data protection for Stericycle, (the provider of Shred-it information security). “Scammers and fraud artists often use heightened global anxieties to target users when they are at their most vulnerable.”

Plus, we’ve seen recent reports in Canada about ways COVID-19 is being used to scam unsuspecting and worried victims, like calling their personal phones claiming to be a government appointed health worker and falsely reporting positive coronavirus test results in exchange for personal information, says Borromeo.

Similarly, cybercriminals are using fear of the pandemic to trick people into opening phishing emails that install malicious software on their computers or capture credentials.

The sharp spike in employees working from home also brings its own separate data breach risks, too.

Being at home adds another location where information can be unintentionally leaked to outside sources – unsecure Wi-Fi connections and mobile apps, negligent caring of documents, and improper disposal of confidential information are all risks heightened when out of the office.

According to Shred-it’s 2019 Data Protection report, many businesses don’t have plans for properly storing and disposing information when workers are off-site. Now, typical risks are being amplified with so many people working remotely.

Yet, the risk of a data breach can be greatly reduced, even in stressful circumstances, by making security policy a part of normal, everyday routine. This includes being vigilant and taking precautions – and never leaving your device unattended!

As well, only use secure networks and applications. When it comes to data or documents with sensitive information, ensure they are completely disposed of and irretrievable when no longer needed, as well (so don’t dump your work in with the regular garbage or recycling.)

Here’s what Michael Borromeo has to say on avoiding fraud at all costs:

Q: With people more worried about the pandemic, what are some of the most obvious signs of fraud?

A: Scammers are looking to take advantage of the fear being generated by the pandemic. Be cautious of any form of communication – whether it be email, phone or document – from a stranger claiming to need personal information from you in some way. A reputable source will have protocols in place to verify themselves. Bottom line: don’t click on something unfamiliar.

Q:What steps can people take to avoid falling for the biggest fraud?

A: One of the best ways you can help prevent fraud is by prioritizing information security. It can be easy to let data protection practices fall by the wayside when feeling overwhelmed – by adjusting your security habits and making it a routine, like always putting on your seat belt when getting in car, it becomes natural and greatly reduces your risk of becoming a victim.

Additional steps you can take include always using strong passwords, protecting all confidential information on paper and data, even at home. Lock it away or keep it hidden in hard-to-reach places.

Always be on the look-out for any type of scam. Never disclose sensitive personal information on a phone call, text or email. Confirm that requests are genuine in other ways.

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