Stay safe during the outbreak – in more ways than one…

By | April 13, 2020

During this crisis, it’s important to try and keep yourself safe. Physically, that means following the social distancing rules and only leaving your home when it’s absolutely necessary (or not at all, if you’re high risk).

But while that’s necessary to protect you from the virus, it’s also really important that you don’t lose touch with your friends and family, and that you can get hold of all the essentials that you need day-to-day.

There are a lot of services around to help you do just that. Over the last few weeks, I’ve talked about your options for video calling, ways to help you celebrate special occasions at a distance, and places to buy various things online.

But this week, I wanted to talk to you about some security issues…

Is Zoom safe to use?

The online conferencing app, Zoom, has been getting some pretty bad press lately. People have been joining in calls that they haven’t been invited to, and saying or showing some pretty nasty things.

Now – as I said in my email a few weeks ago about video calling – I don’t think most of you should need to worry about Zoom, one way or the other. If you just want to make video calls to your family and friends, then Facebook Messenger, Skype, FaceTime or Google Duo will do the job perfectly well. They can handle about half a dozen people in the call at once without too much difficulty.

If you do want to use Zoom, though, there are a few simple things you can do to make sure your calls stay private and secure – and you won’t get people crashing in and causing trouble. 

  • Make sure your meeting is “private” – either set up a meeting password or use the waiting room feature to let you approve each person before they join the call.
  • Don’t share a link to the call on social media (unless you’re absolutely sure it’s only visible to the people you want to invite). Send the link directly to specific people.
  • Make sure everyone is using an up-to-date version of the app.

If you follow those rules, you don’t need to worry about people listening in or spoiling your call.

Watch out for scams at the moment

With a lot of vulnerable people stressed and on their own, I’m afraid the scammers are out in force.  I’ve heard of a few specific new scams doing the rounds.

One is a text message or email that pretends to be from the government, offering a one-off payment to help you deal with extra costs due to Covid-19. If you follow the link in the text message, it takes you through to what looks like the government website – but it’s really just there to get you to enter lots of personal information to help them steal your money!

Criminals are also targeting people trying to buy medical supplies online and making appeals for you to support bogus charities or those who are ill.

It can be so easy to get taken in by cons like this, especially when you’re already under a lot of pressure and not necessarily thinking as clearly as you might normally. So here are some top tips from the National Crime Agency to avoid getting scammed:

  1. Stop – Take your time, stop and think before you give someone your money or personal information.
  2. Challenge – Does it sound too good to be true? Could it be fake? Ask questions. It’s ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.  (You could try searching for their company name or offer on Google to see if anyone else has reported it as a scam.)
  3. Protect – Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen for a scam (they might be able to help you get your money back, or at least stop the thieves stealing any more) and report it to Action Fraud.

There’s more information about avoiding fraud on the National Crime Agency website here.

But there are lots of people out there who genuinely want to help

If you’re self-isolating and are struggling to get essentials, there are lots of companies, organisations and individuals who are keen to help. Your best bet (as a first port of call) is to either ring up or go to your local council’s website.

Each council has a dedicated area of their website to help link up the people who need help with the organisations who are offering it. By going through them (rather than e.g. responding to emails or following links on social media) you can be confident that they’re genuine – and you’re not going to get ripped off.

Thanks for reading folks, and stay safe.

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