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Cyber security

By Sinead O’Neill, Associate Director, Forensics and Investigation Services

At times like these, when minds may be focused on other things, it is easy for individuals to become complacent in protecting both their personal and professional information – fraudsters know this and are taking advantage.

There are a number of widely reported scams that have been doing the rounds globally and whilst many of them are not new, they are being tailored to prey on people’s vulnerability during the COVID-19 crisis.

One of the main scams circulating is a text message or email purporting to come from government bodies such as HMRC or healthcare trusts, requesting personal details that will allegedly be used to help manage the spread of the virus or to make a donation. This scam is likely to only evolve with the introduction of government-backed track and trace systems.

By obtaining personal information, fraudsters are collecting pieces of the jigsaw and building profiles, which can be used across various platforms, for example to access bank information or email inboxes.

Not surprisingly, the targets of this scam are often elderly and vulnerable. As such it is vitally important that they are aware that these scams exist and have the confidence to exercise caution when passing over any information.

Whilst the ongoing health crisis continues to affect personal lives, businesses should be aware that fraudsters have not pressed pause on their attempts to infiltrate company data and systems.

In a recent global survey conducted by Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, 90% of respondents reported an increase in scams targeting business customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. As distressing as this statistic is, especially given the current situation, it is further proof of the opportunistic mindset of a fraudster.

With so many businesses adopting some form of flexible working or working from home, it is more important than ever that appropriate processes and controls are in place to protect company information, and that staff are fully trained to identify possible threats.

There has been an increase in email/invoice fraud, where fraudsters gain access to management’s mailboxes and send emails to employees requesting a transaction be made.

Fraudsters are counting on employees carrying out the transaction and not raising the usual queries that they might otherwise have, had they been in the office, especially in times of increased pressure to perform.

The above are just a few examples of scams that are circulating globally – introducing, reinforcing and strengthening policies and procedures, as well as educating colleagues, family and friends of the risks, is now more invaluable than ever.

Remember, it is the job of fraudsters to identify and exploit personal and professional weakness for personal gain, and they are pretty good at it! While staying physically safe is more important than ever, keeping data safe is also a priority.

For further information or advice, Sinead O’Neill can be contacted at sinead.oneill@ie.gt.com

Grant Thornton (NI) LLP specialises in audit, tax and advisory services.

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