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7 Cybercrime predictions for a global virus outbreak

If I had to pick one community that is definitely going to thrive during a global virus outbreak, it's online fraudsters. Check out these seven predictions about incoming cyber crime...

An unprecedented global virus outbreak is just what the cyberfraudster ordered. Confusion, chaos, and abrupt changes in digital user behavior can help the sharp-minded cybercriminal exploit the current crisis to prey on unsuspecting victims. 

So, what should we expect in the coming weeks and months? Here are my seven biggest predictions.

1. Stimulus Fraud 
American taxpayers who fall under the stimulus income threshold but have not filed their taxes for 2018-2019 won't get a direct deposit unless they file a return. This will trigger a race between taxpayers trying to file returns, and criminals who will beat them to it and provide a bank account that they control for stealing stimulus deposits. Fraudsters will also try to obtain past tax filings from the tax authorities or online accounting services so they can be used as a baseline for fraudulent returns with altered bank account details, Fraudsters will also attempt to impersonate small businesses to apply for stimulus loans using similar methods.

2. Corona Tracker Rogue Apps
Cyber space is teeming with coronavirus scams. Some fraudsters will try to get passwords to email accounts and other sites; others will try to get ransomware onto the user's mobile or PC. The most dangerous scams, though, will be those that manage to trick users into downloading rogue apps. They'll look like the real McCoy, promising tools like alerting you when a coronavirus carrier is in your immediate vicinity or providing CDC-approved virus contagion maps. But in reality, they're after your mobile banking app and mobile e-commerce purchases.

3. It's Mule Time
Account Takeover (ATO) fraud typically requires cashing out the victim's account through a mule – a collaborator with a bank account in the victim's country. Mule recruitment was at an all-time high in 2008-2009 following the big recession, when people eagerly replied to any work-from-home offer, often not realizing it was coming from a crime ring. With the latest jobs report showing that there could be more Americans unemployed right now than at any time in US history, mule recruitment should be even easier – and will fuel the dark economy.

4. Fraudulent Credit Card Accounts to Surge
With many people experiencing a drop in income, those who can get their hands on new credit lines are expected to do so – but the only way open for them is through their credit card website. This means an overall increase in online credit card applications. Fraudsters are likely to try to leverage the trend, hiding in the general noise and reduced ability to investigate suspect cases. It will take some time to recognize the steepness in losses because the criminals will first have to get their hands on the physical cards, then use them online. To complicate that, there will also be an increase in credit defaults, which are hard to distinguish from fraudulent account openings.

5. Online Loan Application Fraud
Lenders are tightening their credit controls to make sure the applicant still has an income. To offset the drop in new acquisitions, they may relax some fraud controls, letting more people in, including more fraudsters. In any case, account openings for online loans are a lucrative target: They require little setup beyond acquiring a list of stolen identity records and some other precautions around device and email analysis. Once the money is handed out, it's easy to grab it and run. 

6. Social Engineering… From 'Your Bank' 
"Hey, we're your bank, and wanted to reach out! The branch is closed, so we're the friendly helpdesk. We've noticed some issues in your account, and would like to help you sort it out. Can you please install this utility to help us run some tests remotely?" You know the rest of this story.

7. Deep Social Engineering Hits US
The Brits call it Authorized Push Payments. The Dutch are seeing it as their top emerging trend. But the US has yet to see this clever voice scam that tricks unsuspecting users into logging into their online bank account and simply moving all their money to a new, safe bank account, opened due to a fraud incident. These scams are extremely effective and defeat all controls such as authentication, device, and location analysis. The only remedy is to look at cognitive traits such as signs of hesitation, duress, and being guided.

There's a narrow window of opportunity in which online fraud warfare will become even more one-sided than in normal times. Knowing what to expect from online fraudsters is the first step toward stopping them.



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Uri Rivner

Uri Rivner

CEO and Co-Founder

Refine Intelligence

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14 Apr 2008


Tel Aviv

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