Could Digital Wallets provide protection from Covid related scams?

by Nik Maguire

The Covid-19 virus doesn't have the monopoly on misery during this pandemic. Sadly there are many factors causing duress at this time: Endless lockdowns; economic hardship and restricted international travel are all contributing to the deepening collective anguish.

These miseries caused by 'mother-nature' and from government measures to protect its citizens can in some ways be tolerated as 'acts of god' or necessary sacrifices for the greater good...  But when misery is inflicted intentionally with cold calculating malice, it is incomprehensible to any law-abiding citizen why such malevolence prevails.

Criminal exploitation during the pandemic, however, is flourishing!  With Text Message (SMS) scams rising 33% during the lockdown according to Experian and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Email phishing, automated phone calls, text messaging and even door to door pedalling of fake vaccines are all methods criminals are using to extort money from a beleaguered and vulnerable population.

The UK National Cyber Security Centre had to issue examples of legitimate government SMS's because text messages from scammers were so similar and widespread.  The difficulty in distinguishing fake from real shouldn't be a surprise, however, as a text message is after all just... text!

For example, which of these three text messages is the genuine UK government message and which are the fakes?

Example 1

GOV.UK ALERT CORONAVIRUS. It has come to our attention that you have been out of the house more than once. Due to this irresponsible behaviour, we are issuing you a formal warning and a £250 fine. If this continues, the fine could increase to a maximum of £5000 and/or an arrest. Payment will be taken automatically out of your account. Call 0800 345 9999 for any enquiries or to appeal.

Example 2

URGENT: UKGOV has issued a payment of 458 GBP to all residents as part of its promise to battle COVID 19. Tap here to apply.

Example 3

GOV.UK ALERT CORONAVIRUS New rules in force now: you must stay at home, More info and exemptions at Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.

The third example is the genuine government text message.  It may have been obvious to you but with the ability to send low-cost bulk texts, the scammers only need to convince 1 in every 10,000 people to hand over their details to be successful in defrauding thousands of people. 

It seems attacks show no sign of abating any time soon.  Many innocent people have had their home telephone numbers, mobile numbers, postal address and emails sold on to criminal gangs.  Leading to a tsunami of 'nuisance calls' and 'spam' messages all seeking to exploit and defraud unsuspecting citizen at this challenging time.

If we want greater defence, putting a proverbial 'firewall' between ourselves and these criminals gangs then we have to look beyond vigilance and education and past the inherent vulnerabilities of current technologies towards a more suitable 21st-century solution.

Protection through Mobile Wallets.

On February 1st 2021, The Telegraph published an article detailing how criminal gangs we creating fake test certificates to enable unscrupulous travellers to board flights, contravening Covid restrictions. Yet, forward-thinking testing laboratories and software providers are implementing ways to deliver immutable test results directly to Mobile Wallets on smartphones to bypass this form of criminal opportunism.

Folio Mobile Wallet is a secure App which is installed on a smartphone to store confidential documents and messages such as laboratory test results, credit cards and passports.  Using biometric and security information (fingerprints, passwords and facial recognition) the Mobile Wallet is 'bound' to the identity of its individual owner.  

CloudLIMS, a leading laboratory informatics provider partnered with Folio to create a solution which enables patients to receive, store and share their COVID-19 test results digitally.  The solution creates a chain of trust between laboratories, health services, patients and 3rd parties such as employers, governments and airport security.

In an example for airport security: The traveller opens their Mobile Wallet with a selfie or fingerprint and the security guard scans a QR code on the test certificate to verify its authenticity.  Test certificates are fully traceable back to the laboratory of origin and are implicitly linked to the Digital Identity of the traveller at the security gate. 

This quick and simple process not only removes the possibility of fraudulent certificates but helps to build confidence in air travel once again.

Communications Built on Trust.

Unlike SMS when a secure message is sent to the Folio Mobile Wallet, the recipient must have previously authorised the sender with permission to communicate with them.  This gives the recipient confidence that messages are from authorised parties only and rebuilds trust in digital communications. 

Using Mobile Wallets therefore removes the possibility of mass texting and email scams.  Simply having access to a mobile number or email address is no longer enough for a scammer to send a message.  With Mobile Wallets, the sender must be part of a trusted network of authorised parties that can send communicates to the recipients Mobile Wallet.

Text messaging and email have been the backbone of digital communications for the past three decades. Their ease of use and convenience may now be their downfall.  Once your email address or mobile number falls into the wrong hands the open nature of the communication is easy to exploit.  The sender needs no permission to send, again and again.  

Mobile Wallets offer a simple and secure way of reclaiming confidence in digital correspondence and document authenticity by creating a chain of trust between the sender the recipient and relevant 3rd parties.  They remove the possibility of unsolicited communications and spam and may go along way in tackling social, digital and biological viruses as well.

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