The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has closed countless offices and driven thousands of Americans to work from home. But working out of your home is no occasion to relax your computer practices. You should be just as diligent about protecting your files and personal information from fraud as you would in the office.
Tech support scams remain a common threat, with more than 1,500 such scams reported nationwide to Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker in 2019. BBB published an in-depth investigative study on these scams in 2017. A pop-up on your computer or an unsolicited phone call may tell you your computer needs repairs. If you allow the scammer access to “fix” your computer, they may install spyware or malware that will scan your computer for personal information or monitor your web-surfing behavior, opening you up to identity theft.
A St. Louis woman reported losing $500 in December 2019 after a pop-up on her computer told her to call a number purporting to be that of a major tech company. She told BBB Scam Tracker the man on the other end of the phone “took over her computer and cursor,” unlocked her computer, and told her she had numerous viruses and malware before selling her a virus protection program. Neither the program nor the threats turned out to be legitimate.
Workers who are telecommuting also should be wary of business email compromise (BEC) scams, the subject of a 2019 BBB investigative study. In this costly scam, fraudsters impersonate a company or executive in order to gain access to the company’s financial information. BBB Scam Tracker received about 165 reports of these scams in 2019.
BBB recommends the following to protect your computer and any sensitive work files you may have brought home.
- Practice good cybersecurity. Keep your antivirus and security software up to date. Use strong passwords on all your devices and apps, including your laptop if using one. Never leave your laptop or cellphone unattended.
- Secure your home network. Turn on encryption (WPA2 or WP3) on your home internet router, which scrambles information sent over your network in order to keep it secure. You should be able to do this through your web browser.
- Secure your work files. If you have been asked to bring confidential or sensitive business information home, keep it locked up and out of site. Consider a locked file cabinet or locked room. Shred any papers you no longer need.
Report any computer-related scams or attempts to steal your personal information at bbb.org/scamtracker.
BBB has more consumer and business tips and alerts related to the coronavirus pandemic at bbb.org/coronavirus.
For more assistance, go to bbb.org or call 573-803-3190.