Hopefully, COVID19 itself will soon be vaccinated into the history books. For the present, however, it remains a force to be reckoned with and also a source of huge confusion. Sadly, that confusion is creating opportunities for scammers. Here are some tips on how to protect yourself.
Make the most of HMRC’s online services
HMRC scams have been around for years, but the Coronavirus pushed scammers to a new level. There are now so many scams that it’s probably pointless even to try learning about them all. Instead, learn the basics of communicating with HMRC.
The government publishes a list of reasons why HMRC might get in touch and what to expect if they do. Of course, this list can’t cover every possible reason why HMRC might contact you. That means you should double-check any phone or text message with the real HMRC either by an official contact-centre number or via their online gateway.
NB: Never trust the number you see on your phone or the sender address you see in an email. Both are relatively easy to fake. Always check with the real HMRC.
For the most part, HMRC’s official online gateway is by far the most secure (and convenient) way to communicate with them. It also contains a lot of information which might answer your query without you having to get in touch with them.
Learn how companies communicate with you
One reason why HMRC scams are so prolific is that practically everyone has dealings with them. It’s hard to think of a private company which has the same reach. That said, major companies can have very extensive customer databases. This means that they also have their share of impersonators.
Some of these impersonations are easy to detect. Some, however, are becoming sophisticated enough to pass even close scrutiny. This means that the safest assumption is to assume that any communication is a scam unless it is actively proved to be legitimate.
As with HMRC, use the company’s official website as your main port of call for legitimate information. If you want to speak to someone or check that a caller was genuine, call the number given on the company’s official website.
Make yourself a hard target
Understand the fact that nobody is too small to be a target. Remember the basic principle of risk and reward. If you ignore IT security then you’ll make yourself an easy target. This means that it only takes a very small reward to justify the effort needed to attack you. If, by contrast, you make yourself a hard target, you’re far more likely to be left in peace.
Protect your main devices
Your phone, tablet and computer should all have proper security software. You should also make a point of applying updates to the operating system and software as soon as possible after they are released. This matters because these updates often enhance security in some way.
Take passwords seriously
Passwords really are a key part of digital security. You genuinely should be using strong and unique passwords for every account you have. That applies even if you’re also using other authentication methods such as confirmation text messages.
If you can’t handle using strong and unique passwords for all accounts, then you may need to invest in a password-manager. These are controversial because they are a single point of failure. This makes them targets for cyberattackers and one of them has been breached. That said, in real-world terms, they may be far the lesser of the two evils.
Make sure that you use strong passwords for your mobile, tablet, computer and smart devices. Ideally, update them periodically. This may be an inconvenience but it significantly increases your security. Basically, the more often you update your passwords, the more secure you will be.
Use a virtual private network
VPNs basically cloak your internet usage. This makes life much harder for cybercriminals.