There’s a cybersecurity threat so troublesome that not even some of the best cybersecurity technology can stop it. It’s called psychology, and it’s used in any number of cybercrime attacks.

Cybercriminals and scammers use psychological games to trick potential victims into becoming actual victims. In many cases, hackers leverage newsworthy crises in their scams, and I predict the coronavirus outbreak is no different.

As the coronavirus death toll rises, I believe we can expect to see scams from fraudsters using the coronavirus outbreak to play with our emotions.

There is a lot of talk about malware, ransomware, spyware, and any other type of evil ware in the media, and it’s important to remember that one of the best weapons a cybercriminal can use is psychology. Understanding how they use these tactics against us, and how to respond, is a must.

What will these scams look like?

In my experience, I’ve seen firsthand how common it is for cybercriminals to play with our four main emotions (i.e., fear, sadness, anger, and happiness). They trick us by sending false information that is designed to look real. In the context of the current coronavirus outbreak, here some examples of what I expect these scams could look like:

  • When cybercriminals use fear, the messages may look like something like this: “Don’t get sick! Click on the following link for safety measures on how to avoid the coronavirus.”
  • When they use sadness and anger, they are trying to take advantage of our good nature by sending us a message that looks something like this: “Please help others! Donate so we can find a cure for the coronavirus outbreak by clicking here.”
  • When they use happiness, the message may look something like this: “Get rich quick! Buy stock in this company that just created the coronavirus cure.”

How can we leverage logic?

As Spock from Star Trek often eludes to, our emotions can be the enemy of logic. In many cases, the difference between being scammed and not being scammed is the 10 seconds it takes to pause, take a deep breath, and ask yourself whether this makes any sense at all.

Sometimes simply by taking a deep breath before we react, we can more easily spot the scam being presented to us.

It’s important to understand that cybercriminals will use multiple forms of contact to reach out to us. These forms can include text, email, phone, and even office walk-ins.

Ask yourself these questions.

Keeping that in mind, when someone reaches out to you asking for sensitive information, such as clicking on a link or downloading an attachment, especially if it relates to the coronavirus or whatever the latest newsworthy crisis is, ask yourself these questions when you examine the message:

  • Did you expect the email, text, or phone call?
  • Did you expect an attachment or link?
  • When you hover over the “from” address, is it different than what it claims to be?
  • What’s the sender’s address?
  • Does the sender’s address make sense for the message being sent to you?
  • Are there strange typos or any wording that doesn’t make sense?
  • Does the email play with your emotions?
  • If it’s from a friend, is it from their usual address? Are they asking for something strange?
  • Does the message make any sense at all?

If you have any doubts, just delete it.

Always remember, never click on a link directly in an email or text sent to you. Always open a separate search window and research the site directly.

If someone is using a URL shortening service like TinyURL and wants you to click on their link, make sure you use a URL lengthening service so you know the link address before you click on it.

Never call a phone number directly within an email or text sent to you, even if it’s seemingly from a friend. Instead, research the number yourself.

Cybercriminals will use all sorts of tricks to fool us. With caution, patience, and the tips learned from this article, you can help protect yourself, your colleagues, and your loved ones.

Danny Pehar

With more than 20 years experience in the cybersecurity industry, Danny Pehar has become one of its foremost experts.

As a member of the Forbes Technology Council, Danny is also a monthly cybersecurity content contributor to the renowned business magazine. His media portfolio also includes regular television appearances that have built him an engaged broadcast audience and social media following.

As the architect of the Cybercrime Equation, Danny works closely with the Toronto Police Cyber task force as well as the FBI cyber task force. He also sits on the board of directors of InfoSecTO.

As a bestselling author and professional keynote speaker, Danny uses his own Executive Security Storytelling formula to successfully educate organizations on the ever-relevant world of cybersecurity. He has spoken to audiences and industries throughout North America and Europe.

Whether providing cybersecurity awareness training to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, new employees or even elementary school students, Danny draws on his experience as a comedian and motivational speaker. Combining this background with his extensive cybersecurity knowledge and obsession, Danny promises to entertain, empower and educate for a truly awesome experience!

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