New Jersey Urges Vigilance as Data Breaches, Online Threats Rise During Pandemic

October 12, 2020

As October’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month is underway, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal warned residents of the state that data breaches, internet fraud and online threats are on the rise.

With New Jersey residents facing a rise in cyber crime during the COVID-19 public health emergency, according to a press release issued by Grewal’s office, raising awareness about internet safety has taken on a new sense of urgency this year.

“The pandemic has made us all more dependent on the internet,” Grewal said in the release. “We are using it to conduct business, connect with friends, do our shopping, entertain our families, consult with our doctors and even send our children back to school, creating fertile hunting ground for hackers, financial scammers and other cyber predators. Cybersecurity Awareness Month serves as an opportunity to remind everyone that we’re all connected on the internet and we share the responsibility for keeping it safe and secure. Working together toward this common goal has never been more important, as cyber criminals look to profit from the COVID-19 emergency.”

Nationwide, consumers have lost more than $156 million to COVID-related fraud this year, nearly a third of that over the internet, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the release stated.

New Jersey consumers alone have lost a reported $4.45 million to COVID fraud, and during the first three full months of the public health emergency – April through June – complaints of identity theft in the state are up by 66 percent compared to the same period in 2019, FTC data show.

Public data breaches are also on the rise in the state, according to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office release. Since March, the New Jersey Cybersecurity Communications and Integration Cell (NJCCIC) has seen a 33 percent uptick in reports of hackings and online security breaches compared to the same period last year.

The data breaches, which have affected financial, medical and retail industries, among others, exposed proprietary data belonging to the companies themselves as well as personal data belonging to their clients, patients and customers.

In July, a surge in cyber threats against the remote workforce prompted the NJCCIC to issue a warning about malware attacks specifically aimed at breaching the networks employees are using to access their business emails, documents and files from home.

“For hackers and cyber scammers, the pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and they’re taking full advantage of it,” said Paul Rodríguez, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “It seems like every day brings a new scheme or attack. This can be overwhelming to consumers already suffering the effects of prolonged isolation, lost wages and health concerns brought on by the COVID emergency.”

However, Rodriguez said the scams being seen now are simply repackaged versions of the same scams seen in the past, in most cases. With this in mind, he emphasized the importance of common sense and caution.

“By exercising caution and using common sense, consumers can avoid becoming the next victim,” he said.

Source: New Jersey Office of the Attorney General

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