How is Coronavirus (COVID-19) Changing How We Interact Digitally?

Due to the current spread of the coronavirus, everyone is being asked to stay at home as much as they can. As day-to-day life is changing, the internet is getting used more than ever to help keep a normal routine by speaking to family and friends, uploading school work and shopping for basic supplies like food.

Being online can be important for our mental health and wellbeing and to help stay positive and connected during an uncertain time like this.

Because of the increased use it’s worth thinking about what things you can do to stay safe online and protect your devices. Then you can get back to shopping online, accessing your education or training resources, playing games and chatting with friends without having to worry! 

Scams

Unfortunately, scammers use people's good nature against them. With more people relying on the internet for essential items, the Scottish Government are already encouraging us to be more aware of scammers during this time.

Here are some top tips:

  • Don’t click links in text messages, open emails or social media messages from senders you don’t already know. Phishing scams will try to trick you into giving scammers your information, like a password. 
  • Unsure if an email is genuine? Try and get in contact with the sender. You can do this by phoning or emailing the official source (don't use the information in the email to contact them - always look for their website on the internet using Google or something similar). A common coronavirus phishing scam is pretending to be from a well-known health organisation.  Remember that these organisations will never ask you for this information out of the blue.
  • If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If a site is offering discounted face masks, hand sanitisers or personal protective equipment (PPE), be wary. Just because you see it on your favourite app or site it doesn’t mean that the organisation can be trusted.
  • Official emails usually address you by name. Scammers are less likely to do so, usually addressing the email, 'Dear Customer', 'Hi there', or similar. At the same time, don’t assume that an email is safe just because your name is used.
  • There has been a big increase the number of scam websites pretending to be popular, legitimate streaming sites like Netflix or Disney+ and offering fake subscriptions or free accounts that are designed to get your valuable data. Use the steps above if you are suspicious to investigate whether the websites or promotions are real and look for warning signs like spelling or grammar mistakes.
  • Some online quizzes about coronavirus are being used to collect personal details which could be used for fraudulent activity. Scammers take advantage of the desire for information about the disease, these quizzes look like they're checking our knowledge but are also asking for details such as maiden names, family information, telephone and email addresses – even pet names. This may appear harmless, but this information allows scammers to build up a picture of a target which could be used subsequently for identity theft. Be wary if you are being asked to share personal information to take part in a quiz.
  • Don't be embarrassed if you've fallen victim to a scam. You can report cyber-crime to Police Scotland on 101 and or to Citizen's Advice to help make sure other people aren't scammed. Remember to contact your bank immediately if you think that you’ve given card details to a scammer and, if it's a purchase you're concerned about, you can contact Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000.

When shopping online it’s worth doing a quick web search to make sure they are who they say they are. Always go to the site directly instead of following links from emails or messages. Make sure a site has 'https' at the start of the address bar to show it's secure, and only input details to websites you trust.

To find out more on scams and coronavirus, you can visit Trading Standards Scotland for the latest scams and more information from trusted sources.

Fake news

The spread of information about Coronavirus is moving fast, with minute-by-minute updates around the world. It can be overwhelming to figure it all out!

Because anyone can post on social media, fake ‘claims’ about coronavirus miracle cures have been spreading, leaving people following dangerous advice or feeling a bit confused about what the right thing to do is.

Make sure you:

  • Stop and think about the information you are reading before you share with others. It’s totally normal to want to share interesting news with friends quickly but read it through first and check the source. Look for at least two other similar sites to what you've read to make sure it's correct. The most reliable and up to date information comes from the Scottish Government, the UK Government, NHS and the World Health Organisation.
  • Always check trusted sites directly, if you can’t find the information on their site, it’s likely to be fake. It can be pretty easy to make it look like information has come from somewhere real, by using their logo or name. Look out for spelling mistakes or bad grammar to suss out a fake.
  • Is it a hoax? Figuring out if something you're seeing online is a hoax can be tricky. FullFact is an independent and impartial fact-checking charity. It has lots of up-to-date information relating to the current Coronavirus outbreak.

Popular Apps

It can be tough not being able to catch up with family or friends face-to-face. Luckily there are lots of online ways that we can connect with them. We've listed some of the apps that we've heard people are using and suggested some top safety tips for each one below.

Remember, as with any log-in details for any platform, don't share your username and password with other users.

Houseparty

Houseparty is a live streaming app where anyone over the age of 13 can video chat, hang out in groups and play interactive games together (if younger than 13, parent’s permission is needed to sign up).

Here are some things to think about when using the app: 

  • Who's joining in? Friends of friends can join in a chat even if you don’t know them. So always have a check who’s in the room before joining, and remember you are always free to leave a chat whenever you feel like it! You can also turn on ‘private mode’ to lock the room so nobody else can enter - just press the padlock when you're ready.
  • Facemail – This feature lets people in the chat record 15 seconds of the stream and send to other users, although all members of the chat will see a notification if this is happening.  So just like anything that you stream online, make sure you are happy with what you’re sharing as others may see it at a later date.
  • Interactive games – These can be a lot of fun to take part in, and although some are free, extra games can cost money. Be careful that you aren’t using someone else’s money to pay for these add-ons!
  • Location sharing – this option allows you to add other users who are nearby, however you can turn this off. Don’t invite people you don’t know into your conversation.
  • Shake it – If you have a concern about your safety on the app you can shake your phone to report it. You can also block or report individual users.

There has been a lot of news about the Houseparty app due to claims of hacking. Security experts have advised that there's no evidence of hacking and the owners of the app have denied the claims. Experts say that breaches might be linked to unrelated hacks, and it's a coincidence that people are reporting falling victim shortly after downloading the chat app.

Netflix Party

The Netflix ‘Party’ app allows you to watch a TV show or film with friends virtually! It’s becoming more popular recently as a fun interactive way to connect with friends about your favourite series.

  • Video sync – it has synchronised playback which means everyone has the same link to watch the same thing at the same time, so no need for out-of-sync group phone calls any longer.
  • Online chat – this function allows you to speak with friends whilst the show is streaming. It’s useful to know that anyone with the link can send to others who can also join the ‘party’.  So it’s always worth checking who is in the chat and keeping in mind that all online conversations can be stored.
  • Not compatible with phones or tablets. It’s only currently available on desktop or laptops – so worth checking with friends before asking them to add the extension.

Zoom

Zoom is an online video conferencing tool which you may have seen a friend or favourite blogger use recently. This is useful for many people to join in a video call, send group chats and show presentations all at the same time. There have been a range of security and safety concerns about Zoom which we've outlined below.

A range of safety concerns have been raised about Zoom, including sending user data to Facebook, wrongly claiming the app has end-to-end encryption (where only users in the call can read the messages) and allowing meeting hosts to track attendees. Zoom have advised they are looking into safety flaws and addressing how to fix them as soon as possible.

If you still decide to use the app, here are some things to consider:

  • Sharing a meeting link makes it public. Anyone with the link can join the meeting so be careful where you post the link details.
  • Lock the meeting. Only do this when everyone has joined - nobody can enter after the room is locked. If you’re not hosting then maybe ask the person who is to turn this setting on.
  • Keep file sharing to a minimum. Harmful files can be sent through an open public site like this, so it’s best not to share or open files via Zoom.
  • Use a unique 'Meeting ID' every time. This helps minimise the risk of your meeting being joined by someone you haven't invited.
  • Get in line. The ‘Waiting Room’ feature can control who enters and leaves the call. Turn this feature on so you can leave any unwelcome visitors backstage of the chat action.
  • Create a virtual background – have some fun by creating a virtual background, whether it’s a photo of where you’ve been in the past or something you’ve created yourself!

Enabling automatic security and software on your apps and devices that are connected to the internet will keep them protected with the most up-to-date defences against hackers and malware. 

Whether you decide to have a Netflix marathon, send your bestie a new dance routine or treat yourself to a new pair of PJ’s, there are lots of simple and quick things you can do to protect yourself online and keep yourself entertained during this time.

You can find out more about social media safety and how to protect yourself from scams and hackers. For more information on keeping yourself safe online generally, you can visit Get Safe Online.

More information from Young Scot on Coronavirus (COVID-19).