A critical side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is the rapid increase in cyber scams, attacks, and fraud targeting vulnerable consumers and businesses around the world.

CyberScout which offers identity theft resolution, data defense and employee benefits services, surveyed in February 1,050 U.S. employed adults which found that just before widespread stay-at-home orders, more than half of respondents (52 percent) did not believe it was likely they would ever become a victim of identity theft while 55 percent believed it was somewhat or very unlikely their financial accounts would ever be hacked, according to a news release.

Around eight weeks later, with widespread stay-at-home orders in place and an increase in reported fraud nationwide, CyberScout conducted a second survey that found a significant increase in concern about identity theft and fraud. More than 57 percent of respondents now believe it is very or somewhat likely they will become a victim of identity theft (16 percent increase), 55 percent believe it is somewhat or very likely they will fall victim to financial account hacking (22 percent increase) and nearly 20 percent believe it is very likely they will experience financial account hacking shortly.

“Consumers and businesses were under siege from cyber threats before the pandemic, but lack of awareness combined with a sense that there was little they could do to stop sophisticated hackers and identity thieves caused millions of Americans to not take cybersecurity seriously,” said Jennifer Leuer, CEO, CyberScout in the new release. “Enter COVID-19 and criminals are abusing any and every angle they can to steal federal relief funds, divert tax refunds, compromise business systems, or con consumers out of money. In the cybersecurity community, we continue to struggle with an ‘it won’t happen to me’ mentality from businesses and consumers alike, but COVID-19’s cyberthreat landscape has proven how important it is for people to protect themselves.”

The FBI recently reported 3,000 to 4,000 complaints a day, up from about 1,000 complaints pre-coronavirus. The Federal Trade Commission reported that from January to April it received more than 18,000 fraud reports just related to COVID-19, with 46 percent reporting a financial loss. Losses from coronavirus-themed fraud alone in 2020 are approaching $13.5 million, the release said.

“Millions of Americans still aren’t taking basic steps to proactively protect themselves,” said Adam Levin, founder, and chairman, CyberScout in the release. “People need to take this threat seriously and use this time at home to adopt better strategies to get their digital house in order. A great place to start is to practice the 3Ms: Minimize your exposure (reduce your attackable surface), monitor your credit, identity and accounts so you know as quickly as possible if you have a problem and have a plan to manage the damage if you’re compromised.”

When asked if any cybersecurity behaviors had changed since the onset of the pandemic, more than half (52 percent) of respondents noted they are using strong passwords, 42 percent are keeping software updated, and 42 percent also noted they are now keeping social media settings private. However, only 25 percent are using a virtual private network to strengthen home network security.

Source: CyberScout