Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak, the way in which people are living their lives has changed dramatically. Even the things we took for granted, like going shopping or going to the movie theaters, has been subject to changes during the pandemic. But one change that people are not aware about is the growth in the number of online scams since the pandemic has started.

14,000%. You read that correctly, the number of emails that use phony information about the virus had grown by 14,000% in just two weeks, according to a report from IBM’s X-Force research division. But it’s not just phony emails we have to be concerned about. An analysis of Google data by the firm AtlasVPN found a 350 percent spike over three months in phony websites related to the virus. These statistics are staggering, and if a virus did not make everyone feel on edge enough, now we have to be on the lookout for potential scammers trying to take information that is rightfully ours.

During a time when people are looking for help and feeling vulnerable, scammers have been taking advantage of the situation by posing as legitimate businesses. Some of these “businesses” that scammers are posing as include selling coronavirus treatments, different charities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Small Business Administration, and the World Health Organization.

The average hacking incident resulted in around a $600 dollar loss per victim, and with 7,800 reported victims, this adds up to nearly $5 million worth of scammed money on COVID-19 related complaints. What we can take away here is that scammers are not only willing, but also excelling in exploiting a worldwide pandemic for their own personal gain.

And although the Justice Department is beginning to bring criminal fraud cases against the perpetrators, the reality is that many of these scammers will not be caught. The longer the pandemic stretches out, the more scams – possibly very elaborate scams – will come to light.

So now the question becomes: How can we prevent ourselves from falling victim to scammers? Below are some tips to keep in mind that can save you money in the long run.

  1. Never give out personal information. As a general rule, if you need to give out personal information and cannot visit the company in person, then go to the company’s verified website directly or find their phone number and talk to someone who works there. Giving out your personal information through email is an easy way to fall victim to a phishing scam.
  2. Check your online accounts regularly. Even if you do not regularly check your online accounts, it never hurts to check in on it from time to time. You never know if someone has gotten access to the account and is posting harmful content. Check your financial statements early to catch potential fraudulent transactions early on. Change your passwords frequently and use different passwords whenever possible. Using a password manager application can help you keep track of all of your passwords.
  3. Keep your browser up to date. If there is a security loophole in your browser, hackers may try to take advantage of this. Do not ignore updates for your browser when they become available because the patch is only trying to keep you safe.
  4. Use firewalls. High-quality firewalls act as buffers between you, your computer, and outside intruders. They drastically reduce the odds of hackers and phishers infiltrating your computer or your network.
  5. Be wary of pop-ups. Most browsers give you the option to block pop-ups, which makes this problem go away. But if you still manage to see a pop up, click on the “x” in the upper corner of the window, do not click any buttons that appear on the pop-up, as it could be a part of a phishing scam.
  6. Use antivirus software. Antivirus software scans every file which comes through the Internet to your computer. It helps to prevent damage to your system. They can help you better detect potential threats to your information.
  7. Use a third-party DNS server. When you are searching for a website on your computer, for instance, us, your device connects to a DNS server, and translates the URL into its IP address. By default, the connection is unencrypted, and this leaves room for different types of DNS attacks. Use a private DNS server to improve online security and privacy.
  8. Keep informed about phishing techniques. With technology becoming a necessity in today’s world, more people are at risk than ever before. By being aware of potential scams, you’ll less likely be snared by one.
  9. Think before you click. What if I told you that the following link com didn’t actually take you to Google? Here is where we need to stress the importance of understanding what you are clicking on before you actually do the clicking. A simple action, such as hovering over the link, can help prevent you from falling victim to a scam. You may not be able to distinguish a fake website from the real thing, so instead of clicking on a suspicious link, just go to the real source.
  10. Verify a site’s security. Again, another quick check can help keep your financial information from falling into the wrong hands. Make sure the site’s URL starts with “https” and there should be a lock on the upper left corner of the address bar. Check for a site’s security certificate, and never download files from suspicious sources.

Scammers are not going away anytime soon, and COVID-19 will not be the last event that scammers will try and take advantage of. It’s important to be cautious of every action you take when you are online, because one little hiccup can give scammers what they need to take advantage of your mistake.