The Fraud Trend: Rise in Cyber-Crime during COVID – 19 Part II

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

By Shreya Sharma

DRASInt Risk Alliance Private Limited

“Cyber criminals are developing and boosting their attacks at an alarming pace, exploiting the fear and uncertainty caused by the unstable social and situation created by COVID-19”

Jurgen Stock, INTERPOL Secretary General (Coker, 2020)

Credit to COVID-19 PANDEMIC, world over economies are in crisis; some GDPs at its Nadir; opportunities all-over low, employees becoming Job seekers, who are swelling, Medical requirements are breaking records with per capita income decreasing. Health insurance is a booming business with definitive frauds which will reveal themselves in the coming months. How we shopped and what we shopped also dramatically changed. For example, public transportation and airline transactions were down sometime back by 92% and 71%, respectively, while transactions in automobile sales were up 283% reflecting concerns about increased health risk associated with crowded modes of transportation (Justin J. Lehmiller, 2020). The use of the internet has skyrocketed in the mayhem, work-from-home, social networking, dissemination and absorption of news information, and other entertainment drives have exposed the digital devices/ information systems/ computers to vulnerabilities and attacks in the cyber domain.

CYBER-CRIME, the word prevalent from the time when the computer technologies were developing, the dark crime evolving in dark world i.e. the crime taking place behind the networks, internet and through the application. Is this all a myth or for real? Let’s examine this in the succeeding paragraphs.

According to Karl Mark’s Demand-Pull Inflation hypothesis, When the demand of the market goes down and supply remains constant for very long time, inflation rates increases (Xenny, 2002). This eventually impact the crime rates directly which tend to increase in this process. When traffic is on internet the crime is cyber in nature. Criminals are on prowl, looking for an opportunity invoking the game of faith while luring the victims. According to the officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs, “there have been 86 percent rise in Cyber-crime since March 2020”(Sharma, 2020). According to a research, it is estimated that 84% internet users agreed on the rise of Cyber-crime during this pandemic. Also, 54% people admitted to providing their personal details on the cyber platforms (Kashif, Javed, & Pandey, 2020).

Reason for Increase in Cyber-crime

Cyber threats are constantly evolving in order to take advantage of high online behaviour and trends. Cyber-crime flourishes through websites, applications, dark-net, web-links, online banking and various other methods. Reasons which can be attributed to the trend are given below:

  • Absence of Physical Crime: Crimes like robbery, kidnapping and extortion have dipped tremendously and cases of brawls and fights have gone down by almost 65% (Xavier, 2020).

  • Psychological Impact: People in this current situation, are suffering from stress and anxiety around their health and wealth, and these vulnerabilities are being targeted by expert fraudsters who are pilfering money and profound individual information. Cyber specialists say that the crisis has raged the cyberspace with fraudsters. According to an assessment, in Britain, cyber data worth $1.7 Billion was stolen from internet users during the crisis period (CTV, 2020).

  • Increase in Online Shopping: As individuals as precautionary measure staying back at their homes to be away from Corona exposure, they are becoming more and more dependent on online shopping. Fraudsters use these platforms aggressively to victimize the customers by offering fake coupons and false pop-ups, resulting in extracting the personal data. Cyber-crime rose manifold during online festivals shopping and the trend is likely to continue during Christmas and New Year festivities. MacAfee Threat Research team recently revealed that 79.7 per cent customers of online shopping believe that there is a greater cyber risk due to pandemic.

  • Increase in Online Job Search: More and number of Job seekers apply online exposing themselves to fraudulent recruiters who not only defraud them by false promises but some of them also specialise in bank frauds. It is estimated that one cyber attack takes place every 39 second (Ratan, 2020).

Understanding the Intensity of Cyber-crime

Over the past several months, the Corona virus pandemic has fundamentally changed the manner that we work, learn, shop, and bank. By accelerating digital transformation, it also gave fraudsters new opportunities to leverage disruption and pry away sensitive information. According to a report of WHO, the number of cyber attacks is now more than five times then recorded in the same period last year (World Health Organization, 2020).

When banks were under shutdown, 382% spike in terms of value on online banking and investment activities were reported. That trend was quickly followed by an increase in account takeover fraud attempts. The combination of logins from a new account with a new device accounted for 31% of total fraud volume observed, suggesting fraudsters continued using stolen credentials from data breaches to set up accounts to facilitate cash-out or indulge in new account fraud. (Justin J. Lehmiller, 2020).

Cyber-criminals are also playing upon the fact that we are quickly learning and using new technology to do things we have never done before. In the quest to reduce contact, many organizations began offering more mobile services, and many of us started to use these mobile services for the first time. This provided Cyber-criminals with a larger window of opportunity to exploit our unfamiliarity with new applications, workflows, and ways to shop and bank remotely: last quarter, we saw that almost 70% of all fraudulent transactions initiating from the mobile channel, which was a 26% year-over-year increase. Not coincidently, that came with a 17% increase in the value of a fraudulent payment transaction in the mobile channel. As always, the Cyber-criminals are going where the money is.

Going with various different Cyber-crimes, the distribution of Cyber-crimes and threats were estimated as 22% of Malicious acts at various domains, 36% of Malware or Ransomware attacks, 59% Phishing Scam and frauds while 14% were estimated to be countered as Fake news (Reuters, 2020).

Case Studies

Fraud Calls/ Phone Scams

Criminals get the data from the servers or either by purchasing from any online performing companies who sell their customer details to them. Callers usually say they are representing the bank, recruitment agency, product selling companies, insurance agent, tours and travel agent. These fraudsters generally give a bubble to customers by saying we are offering you such facilities or either we have to update your data or else they ask banking details by saying you have won the lottery price and user immediately transfer money or share banking credentials. Such frauds are common nowadays. eg A hike in ‘one-ring’ phone scam was seen in Delhi during the pandemic. Scammers used spoofing technique and used to call through International numbers usually with three-digit-codes, and if the victim calls back their whole data will be stolen and used for illegal purposes (“One Ring’ Phone Scam _ Federal Communications Commission,” 2020).

Exploiting the Fear in the General Public

Everybody who has been trapped inside the home amidst this lockdown is trying to stay on top of information of their relevance and on COVID. The author of malwares are taking advantage of this situation. One such apps which was available in Google play store was “Corona live 1.1”, which claimed to be a live tracker of cases of Corona virus. The people using the app were of the view that this app was keeping a track of the pandemic, but the malicious app was actually invading their privacy; getting access to the device’s photos, videos, location and camera. The information collected could be used in the multiple ways eg to compromise your bank accounts or even blackmail the owner of the pictures and videos. Realising this problem, the android play store removed many such apps from their platform.

COVID Medical Scams

In the month of March alone, over 102,676 websites specifically related to medical scams were found, out of which 1,092 websites were either illegally selling Hydroxychloroquine (medicine claiming to cure the spread of Covid) or spreading wrongful information about using it as a cure.

Cyber Hackers Usually Targeted Remote Workers and Those Who were Quarantined and Mostly Dependent on Online Platform

Streaming phishing sites saw an alarming 85% increase in phishing attacks from Jan to March with over 209 websites created per day, attempting to capitalize on those who were looking for entertainment during lockdown (COVID-19 contributed to record breaking Cyber-criminal activity - Help Net Security 2020).

How to Protect against Cyber-crime

Anyone using the internet should exercise some basic precautions. Here are some tips you can use to help protect yourself against the range of Cyber-crimes out there.

  • Use Full-Service Internet Security Suite

For instance, anti-virus security platform claims to provide real-time protection against existing and emerging malware including ransomware and viruses, and helps protect your private and financial information when you go online.

  • Use Strong Passwords

Don’t repeat your passwords on different sites, and change your passwords regularly. Make them complex. That means using a combination of at least 10 letters, numbers, and symbols.

  • Keep your Software Updated

This is especially important with your operating systems and internet security software. Cyber-criminals frequently use known exploits, or flaws, in your software to gain access to your system. Patching those exploits and flaws can make it less likely that you’ll become a Cyber-crime target.

  • Manage your Social Media Settings

Keep your personal and private information locked down. Social engineering Cyber-criminals can often get your personal information with just a few data points, so the less you share publicly, the better. For instance, if you post your pet’s name or reveal your mother’s maiden name, you might expose the answers to two common security questions.

  • Strengthen your Home Network

It’s a good idea to start with a strong encryption password as well as a virtual private network. A VPN will encrypt all traffic leaving your devices until it arrives at its destination. If Cyber-criminals do manage to hack your communication line, they won’t intercept anything but encrypted data. It’s a good idea to use a VPN whenever you a public Wi-Fi network, whether it’s in a library, café, hotel, or airport.

  • Talk to Your Children about the Internet

You can teach your kids about acceptable use of the internet without shutting down communication channels. Make sure they know that they can come to you if they’re experiencing any kind of online harassment, stalking, or bullying.

  • Remain Updated on Major Security Breaches

If you do business with a merchant or have an account on a website that been impacted by a security breach, one must find out what information the hackers accessed and change your password immediately.

  • Take Measures to Protect against Identity Theft

Identity theft occurs when someone wrongfully obtains your personal data in a way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain. How? You might be tricked into giving personal information over the internet, for instance, or a thief might steal your mail to access account information. That’s why it’s important to guard your personal data. A VPN — short for virtual private network — can also help to protect the data you send and receive online, especially when accessing the internet on public Wi-Fi.

  • Know that Identity Theft can Happen

It’s smart to know how to protect your identity even when travelling. There are a lot of things you can do to help keep criminals from getting your private information on the road. These include keeping your travel plans off social media and being using a VPN when accessing the internet over your hotel’s Wi-Fi network.

  • Keep an Eye on the Kids

Just like you’ll want to talk to your kids about the internet, you’ll also want to help protect them against identity theft. Identity thieves often target children because their Social Security number and credit histories frequently represent a clean slate. You can help guard against identity theft by being careful when sharing your child’s personal information. It’s also smart to know what to look for that might suggest your child’s identity has been compromised.

  • Know What To Do If You Become a Victim

If you believe that you’ve become a victim of a Cyber-crime, you need to alert the local police. This is important even if the crime seems minor. Your report may assist authorities in their investigations or may help to thwart criminals from taking advantage of other people in the future.

DRASInt Risk Alliance Private Limited acts as your Consultative Investigative Unit (CIU) for Field Investigation Services and Surveillance. We specialize in investigations related to Arson, White Collar Crime, Financial Fraud and Malpractice, Corporate frauds and Forgery and in Protective Intelligence, trial Surveys, Asset Verification, Accident Investigation Services and Fire Damage Investigation Services, Character Report, Background Verification, Identity Verification Services, Age Verification by Forensic Dentistry, Pre-Employment Check, Documentary Proofing, Bank Card Verification, Digital Forensics Services and Forensic Audit Services, Insurance Fraud investigation and Insurance Claim Verification. We also undertake to investigate Anti-Counterfeit Services, Infringement of Trade Mark, Trademark Verification and Pilferage of Good. As a private investigator we undertake Property Dispute and Asset Verification Investigations, investigations related to Matrimonial Discord, Extra Marital Affairs, and Spouse Fidelity and Pre Matrimonial Verification. Sourcing and provisioning of Security Manpower and Equipment, and to conduct Security, Investigation, Intelligence Awareness Training programs are some of our other specialties.

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