While this pandemic is showing the best of humanity, from individual acts of kindness to heroic levels of volunteering in the community, it is also bringing fraudsters out of the woodwork.
A situation like the current one, when many norms are suspended and activities like banking are taking place in new ways, offers chances for those who prey on the vulnerability and uncertainty of others.
There have been a number of examples of this in recent weeks.
In Cork city a number of elderly people were called on last week by someone claiming to be from a local community association, offering food hampers for a small charge.
It is important to remember, and to remind any elderly or vulnerable people you are aware of, that genuine volunteers are being coordinated through Gardaí and community forums.
Don’t answer the door to someone you don’t know unless you feel comfortable doing so. Any person genuinely offering assistance will be happy to show ID.
Local authorities have set up local Community Response Forums in each local authority area.
You can get the contact details for the forum in your area on citizensinformation.ie and it is worth looking up this number and sharing with anyone who needs assistance.
Anyone can call it to verify any assistance that is being offered to them and your local Garda station can also be contacted to verify community programmes.
The current restrictions have also seen a massive increase in online activity as people work, shop and bank remotely to avoid unnecessary journeys.
Many tasks that would previously have been completed in person are now being done online, creating opportunities for cybercriminals.
A recent example which the Gardaí and the Road Safety Authority highlighted was a fraudulent Facebook Page, purporting to be the National Driver Licence Service (NDLS).
“A fraudulent Facebook page is inviting people to contact them via WhatsApp to apply for or renew their driving licence. They are then seeking payment of over €200,” a Garda spokesperson said.
“This is a scam to part people with their money. The NDLS does not have any official social media pages.
“The only way to contact the NDLS is through the official RSA social media pages or online through rsa.ie or ndls.ie.”
This is just one example of many scams currently doing the rounds online.
IT Security & Cybercrime Analyst Urban Schrott and his colleagues at ESET Ireland have identified a wide range of fraudulent emails in circulation, all preying on the public’s current interest in and fear of coronavirus.
These attempt to catch the recipient’s attention in a number of ways.
Mr Schrott highlighted one, which claimed to be from the World Health Organization (WHO), and asked the receiver to click a link in the email which would bring you to a list of precautionary measures to avoid coronavirus.
In reality, the attachment contained a type of malicious software called a Trojan horse , designed to steal your personal data.
Other email scams Mr Schrott highlighted are target people with fake offers for face masks and other personal protective equipment.
Fraudsters are also targeting the increase in the number of people grocery shopping online.
Supervalu last week advised customers to ignore a WhatsApp message purporting to be from the retailer.
The message invites the recipient to click on a link in order to claim grocery voucher and then looks for personal information.
Other fraudsters prey on people’s charitable instincts, by targeting them with appeals for money to help fund a vaccine or otherwise assist in the fight against coronavirus.
There are many, many good causes desperately in need of public money so don’t feel put off donating if you would like to do so but put your funds toward trusted entities and registered charities, not by giving details in response to emails or Facebook posts of unknown provenance.
If in doubt about any contact - by phone, online or in person — follow the Garda Fraud Prevention Advice
- If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
- Don’t open unsolicited emails.
- Don’t respond to any unsolicited email seeking personal, financial or security advice.
- Never click on a link or attachment in an unsolicited email.
- If you believe the email is from a genuine source, verify this independently. Independently means independent of the email sender.
- Independently verify any requests for information and never use the contact details supplied to you by caller/texter.
- Always say “NO” to unsolicited callers seeking private information, which includes your name, address, date of birth, family details, bank account numbers, PIN, passwords.
- A caller may already have some information about you so don’t trust them because they use your name or other personal information.
- An Garda Síochána or your bank will never look for your PIN number or password or ask you to transfer money, or come to your home to collect your payment card, cheque book or cash.
- If in doubt about any contact - by phone, online or in person — follow the Garda Fraud Prevention Advice.