By: Louis van Wyk, Chief Technology Officer of MiWay Insurance

With the majority of the world’s population confined indoors for many months, 2020 has seen a huge surge in internet usage, with work, school and shopping all migrating to the online sphere in light of stringent lockdown measures. Yet, while the web has been a lifeline for many, offering a safe haven for frustrated parents and those hesitant to brave the outdoors, it is not a place without its own perils.

With more and more people spending long periods of time online, cybercrime levels have skyrocketed in recent months, with some sources citing an increase of approximately 350% in the number of phishing and fake news scams doing the rounds since the pandemic started in March.

As such, it has never been more important to be mindful of our online actions and to take the necessary steps to prevent fraud and to protect our online identities. Here are a few simple ways to help you to stay safe in the online space:

  • Beware fake news

Never before has fake news been as prevalent as it is today. In fact, since the outbreak of COVID-19, the web has been littered by stories of potential cures and characterised by plenty of unfounded fear mongering. Cyber criminals have capitalised on the abundance of disinformation, prevailing on the public to donate to supposedly worthy causes and offering protective products that simply do not exist. 

As such, it is always important to verify the source of any information. There are a number of resources online that are dedicated to debunking fake claims, which should be your first port of call should anything sound too good to be true. Equally, before making any payments or purchases, make sure to verify the source by searching third-party reviews.

  • Secure banking

With more and more banking now taking place online, it is vital that you keep your accounts safe, something you can do in numerous different ways. Firstly, it is important to always ensure that you have an airtight password, using numbers and special characters to create complicated sequences unlikely to be deciphered by hackers. Passwords should always be kept safe and out of sight, ideally stored in a virtual ‘vault’ which requires a master password to access. Banking and other password should be changed regularly to avoid nefarious access to your bank or other data which could be costly during these abnormal times we’re living in.

  • Identity protection

Identity fraud has become an increasingly prevalent problem in South Africa over the past few years, with online impersonation increasing by 99% in 2019 versus the previous year. This is usually done in order to open store accounts and other credit lines, which can end up leaving the victim blacklisted. To avoid falling victim to this type of scam, it is best to keep any personal information out of the public sphere. Any site that asks for unnecessary personal information like your ID number, medical aid information or bank account details should immediately raise your suspicion. 

These are typically known as phishing websites, which masquerade as legitimate businesses but essentially operate as data mining entities. So, before you share any of your personal information, ensure that the site you are on is legitimate, something that can usually be identified by the ‘https’ at the start of the URL, which signifies a secure and encrypted connection. Using a trusted web browser like Chrome will also assist in safeguarding you against illegitimate websites which harvests your confidential information.

The biggest problem with identity theft is that it can go on for years unchecked, so it is best to keep a watchful eye on your credit status if you want to avoid getting blacklisted. Check your credit score regularly for any changes and pay close attention to any store accounts or communications that seem suspicious – the sooner you report identity theft, the less damage will be done to your own credit score.

  • Keep your purchases safe

Chances are that the past few months have seen you browsing some of your favourite online stores more frequently and perhaps making a few special purchases to banish the lockdown blues. When it comes to more valuable items, it is important to remember to keep them insured, something that can also be done at the click of a button. Like most things, insurance policies are now easily managed online, and many providers allow you to update yours in real time without any difficulty.

While the last few months have been characterised by a danger lurking outside our doors, it is important not to lose sight of those within our walls. A simple rule of thumb to bear in mind is that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is, so make sure to corroborate any information before you click. 

MiWay is a licensed insurer & FSP 33970. Ts & Cs apply.

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