Back to School in the COVID-19 Era: How to Protect Members Against Rising Online Fraud

Back to School in the COVID-19 Era: How to Protect Members Against Rising Online Fraud

Back to School in the COVID-19 Era: How to Protect Members Against Rising Online Fraud

By Ashley Town, Ashley Town, Director of Fraud Services

Back to school season is upon us, and this year is shaping up to be radically different. Consumer behaviors have changed significantly since the onset of the pandemic crisis, and families are now doing much of their shopping online as they prepare for learning at home. Unfortunately, fraudsters are primed to capitalize on the ongoing uncertainty.

Mid-summer, most public school systems across the country were still assessing their plans for the fall semester. As of August 11, 2020, seven states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia had statewide school closures in effect, and 17 of the 20 largest school districts had decided on remote learning as their back-to-school instructional model, affecting over 4 million students[1].

In response, families’ traditional back to school shopping patterns have been upended. According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers are expected to increase their purchasing this season, and will spend significantly more on electronics like laptop computers to meet students’ distance learning needs.

Safety first

Shipping and distribution delays, inventory shortages, and higher-than-normal demand are all driving shoppers to try new, less-familiar online retailers. To address the increased risks of cyber-fraud and identity theft, we recommend sharing some common-sense online shopping safety tips with your members.

First, members should verify the legitimacy and security of any website before entering their personal information. They should choose secure sites with URLs starting with “https,” and review the site’s privacy policy and contact information.

Some vendors entice back to school shoppers with special discounts or promotions in exchange for their student’s personal information. Don’t do it! In fact, it’s a good idea to never enter your child’s full name, date of birth, and other details into a website.

Members should also be aware of an uptick in phishing scams hitting their email. Advise them to install the latest versions of anti-virus software on their devices.

Lastly, shoppers should save all receipts and documentation related to their online purchases, in case they need to show proof of purchase to track missing items or shipments that don’t arrive on time to start the school year.


Protecting the most vulnerable

Whether it is online gaming, social media or remote learning, children are now spending more time online than before the pandemic. In fact, one study of more than 3,000 parents found that the number reporting their children devoted more than six hours per day online increased six-fold during the crisis[2].

Unfortunately, most children are blind to the hazards lurking on the open Web. To help protect them, parents should cover their device’s webcam when not in use, and periodically run a quick Google search of their child’s name to see what comes up.

It’s never too early to start practicing good online security behaviors. Parents should educate their children on the latest phishing scams, and how to create strong passwords that don’t rely on easily found information like name and birthdate.

Parents also should never upload complete, detailed information about their child, like full name, photos and date of birth, when setting up online user profiles, even for school-provided and vetted resources. Instead, it’s best to enter minimal data like initials and partial dates, to reduce the opportunity for fraud.


5 Tips for Safe Shopping Online This Back to School Season

  1. Keep your private info … private: Some sites will offer discounts in exchange for sharing your child’s personal data like full name and date of birth. This info can be used for identity theft and phishing scams. Don’t take the bait! Instead, use initials instead of their full name.

  2. Don’t become “phish food”: Phishing email scams have been rising during the pandemic, many capitalizing on peoples’ fears and financial distress, such as the unemployment insurance scheme from the spring. Educate your members on the latest scams and what to watch for.

  3. Strength in numbers … and characters: When selecting a secure password, be sure to include uppercase letters, numbers, and unique characters. Also teach your kids about strong passwords – although children may not meet the age minimums to sign up for online banking, many gaming and shopping sites store parents’ credit card details. This is easy pickings for fraudsters.

  4. Sign up for credit monitoring: With the growth in online fraud and data breaches, it’s important to regularly monitor your credit history and activity. This goes for students as well! Children don’t have long transaction histories, making them ideal targets for identity theft.

  5. Trust, but verify: Make sure all websites you access are secure and up to date. Only trust those with a URL starting with “https,” and take the time to review the site’s privacy policies and security certificates. It takes some extra time up front, but can save a lot of headaches, and potential losses, down the road.


Like these tips? Register today for CO-OP’s next FraudBuzz webinar this Thursday (August 20) to hear about the latest fraud data and emerging trends, including up-to-the-minute Back to School fraud prevention advice for college students and teachers.