Secure Together: fake puppy sales and face mask scams

Another week, another set of stilted video conferences where we find new ways of describing how we spent the previous evening in our pyjamas binge-watching Netflix.

Of course, between frontline workers, furloughed staff and organisations reeling from cyber attacks or other disruptions, there are millions of people who’d bite your hand off to have such trivial workplace conversations.

So what can you do to make sure your biggest concern is how to stay occupied outside work? Let’s find out, as we round up the latest scams to watch out for and how you can protect your physical, cyber and mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.

Cyber crime

More than 600 pet lovers have been tricked into buying puppies and kittens that don’t exist.

The scam, which has netted cyber criminals £282,000 in the past two months, begins with fake advertisements on social media and pet sale websites. When the victim has picked out the pet they want, the scammer asks them to pay a deposit, followed by funds supposedly for insurance, vaccinations and delivery.

Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, said: “The fact criminals will even exploit an international crisis, such as the one we find ourselves in now, to take innocent people’s money is especially cruel.”

“During these unprecedented times, it may seem quite plausible that you should have to pay a deposit for a pet and that you wouldn’t be able to see the animal in real life first.

“However, we would encourage you to think carefully before you transfer any money – do you know and trust this person?”

We can understand why people might be more interested than ever in buying a pet – and with many animal shelters closed during the pandemic, there will be increased interest in private breeders.

However, as with all online purchases, you should always research the seller. In this case, it’s a good idea to see a video of the animals for sale or to visit them in person before handing over any money.

This will obviously be tricky during lockdown, but a good solution might be to meet in a nearby park and remain six feet away.

Phishing scams

The UK is one of the few countries where wearing a face mask isn’t mandatory in public, but that could change if the government relaxes its lockdown measures in the coming weeks.

That’s good news for those most at risk of catching COVID-19 (at least depending on who you ask), but bad news for those susceptible to phishing scams, because it could signal a fresh wave of bogus emails supposedly selling PPE.

PPE scams were among the first coronavirus-related scams

Scam emails such as the above do a good job of replicating the informal language that you’d get in a marketing email, using phrases such as “we’re fighting back with awesome face masks” and creating a friendly, collective attitude designed to build trust.

You can see why someone might fall for a message like this, particularly with a lack of PPE in the UK and the potential for another hoarding situation if they become mandatory.

However, as always, there are signs that point to this being a scam. For example:

  • The email doesn’t state the name of the organisation;
  • The sender is a random Gmail account rather than an organisation’s email address;
  • Although generally well written, the call to action uses the clumsy phrase “sale off 20%”; and
  • It references the CDC (Centers For Disease Control) and uses the word “shop” as a transitive verb, which suggests it was written for a US audience.

Finally, perhaps the biggest giveaway (at least logically) is that a face mask vendor wouldn’t be offering a 20% sale at a time when its product is in higher demand than ever. This is an example of a truism applicable to all scams: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Expert advice

The UK government recently shared proposals with businesses and unions about how employees will be able to return to their offices while remaining safe.

The plans include plexiglass between desks, banning hot-desking, and sticky-taped floors to keep us two metres apart.

This will be music to the ears of those who are fed up of being stuck inside all day, but it will obviously take plenty of planning to get everything set up – and not everyone will be happy about coming back to the office when the risk of infection is still significant.

Organisations should use this opportunity to ask their employees what their preferences are on returning to work. Some may be happy to continue to work from home indefinitely, while others will want reassurances about what the organisation is doing to protect them.

It’s only when you’ve gathered this information that you know the scale of the task on your hands and how feasible it is to let employees back in the office.

IT Governance employee tips for working from home

You’d think that by now we’re all experts on working from home, but there are always lessons to be learned. For example, we’ve spoken to several people who are increasingly concerned about their lack of productivity during the lockdown.

This isn’t surprising. The number of distractions that come with working from home, plus the general stress of constant coronavirus news means it’s only natural for us not to be at peak performance.

When you factor in the lost hours that come with video calls, technical glitches and catch-ups with the team, the situation is even worse.

But as we recently discussed, it does us no good making up for the lost time by working longer hours. Sure, you’ll get more work done in the short term, but you expose yourself to burnout.

We all need the opportunity to rest and get away from work for a few hours each day, and that doesn’t change just because we’re working from home.

If you’re struggling to stay on top of your workload, speak to your manager. They’ll probably have their own experience of this trouble and are likely to take steps to make your job more manageable – whether that’s through reducing your workload or streamlining certain processes.

Free resource

You can find more advice on how to stay safe and secure while working from home by downloading our new infographic.

The 13 tips in this guide summarise the key lessons that we’ve learned about working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus: your biggest challenge yet

There may be a light at the end of the tunnel, but don’t be lulled into a sense of false security about the risks that coronavirus presents.

Cyber criminals are continuing to find new ways to target your organisation and its employees, and any change – even if it’s a gradual return to the office – presents uncertainty and the opportunity for a scam.

Don’t let the good work you’ve done so far be in vain – one virus is enough to contend with.

We have a variety of packaged solutions to help you manage during the crisis, including tools and services to help you address remote working best practices, network vulnerabilities and a host of other issues.