If this unprecedented global pandemic has taught us one lesson on personal responsibility, it is that being aware and cautious can save lives, writes Bevan Smith, head of risk at Visa Sub-Saharan Africa.

During day-to-day activities, people are taking all preventive measures to stay safe — quarantines, social distancing and self-isolation.

There is one more thing that has become absolutely critical to watch out for: our financial security. While the world is doing everything to decrease the impact of Covid-19 outbreak, cybercriminals are raising their game. The pandemic is unfortunately not stopping them from trying to compromise data, and leveraging people’s stress, fears and emotional turmoil. They have embraced this situation to capitalise on vulnerability by attempting to compromise consumers’ personal information and steal money.

Fraud likely goes all the way back to the start of civilization, but it’s never been as sophisticated and technology-driven as it is today.

Gone are the days where you receive an email from a stranger asking you to wire funds to them for an unforeseen emergency. Today, fraudsters do their homework to learn as much as they can about you. However, while social engineering fraud can take different forms such as phone calls, texts, emails, web-site scams, social media, the target is always sensitive information.

Significant amounts of personal information can be gathered online from social media platforms, compromised accounts due to weak passwords, and breached data sold on the dark web. Fraudsters are building up a wealth of personal information on people’s day-to-day lifestyle, such as the stores they frequent, the bank or credit union they belong to, or the subscription services they’ve signed up for.

When fraudsters try to pull off a scam, they seek out account numbers, PAN numbers, card expiry date, CVV2 codes. Sometimes they ask outright by posing as credible organisations, and in some cases, fraudsters do sometimes send a one-time password over the phone. This means the phone call, SMS or e-mail claiming to be from a bank, wireless carrier or favourite retailer may actually be a fraudster, as most institutions including government agencies, do not seek out personal or financial information of people on the phone, via SMS or even email.

The single most important advice to remember is: don’t reveal personal information in unsolicited communication. If you get a call, SMS or e-mail asking for personal or financial information, just ignore and hang up. If you think it was really your bank, your payment card issuer, or someone from the government trying to contact you, you can always call them back by dialling the relevant organisation’s official number. This is what we always stress to customers, helping them to understand that they are the first line of defence.

Visa aims to ensure a foundation for meeting consumers’ payment needs around security, reliability, convenience, and trust. Our success is attributed to intelligent technology we deploy and educational tools and communication platforms we create to educate consumers.

Visa’s Risk team operates with 24x7x365 vigilance to detect, prevent, and respond to threats in real-time. We have kept global fraud rates at historic lows – less than 0.1 percent – through a multi-layered approach of investing in human capital and technology like artificial intelligence.

In parallel, we have run a number of consumer education campaigns aimed at raising awareness around security.

In light of Covid-19, we have conducted educational webinars with Financial Institutions about important risk management practices under current circumstances. And, if we are talking about consumer education, our focus in Sub-Saharan Africa is on fraud prevention and cybersecurity awareness.

As consumer purchases continue to migrate online our focus has shifted to ensuring our clients have a view of the latest fraud and security trends. This includes social engineering, account enumeration attacks and best practices in dealing with disputes/ chargeback.

By drawing on the lessons from past years, we can address future challenges and capitalise on the opportunities stemming from our increasingly digitized society and educated consumers.