A travel security expert has warned the global recession caused by COVID-19 is likely to create a spike in petty and digital crimes committed against business travellers.
“As the economy becomes more depressed, and people are either losing jobs or working reduced hours, they’ll be looking for new avenues to make money,” says Rodger Cook, Security Director at World Travel Protection, which offers global travel risk mitigation solutions and support services for medical, travel and security emergencies.
“During National Scam Awareness Week, it’s important to consider the potential for businesses and individuals to be the victims of fraud. COVID-19 has seen an increase in fraudsters plying their trade. There have been instances of COVID-19 specific fraud; an increase in general fraud and theft affecting companies; and fraud in respect to different government support measures.”
Specific Frauds related to COVID-19 have included fraudsters posing as WHO officials asking for personal details, which they then later exploit. Cook says business travellers are likely to be the biggest targets because with leisure travel currently suspended in most countries, they’re among the few people still visiting other countries. Travellers are more likely to be exposed to cybercrimes as criminals devise new scams.
“There’s still a need for businesses to send their staff overseas to check supply chains, explore new business opportunities, and perform essential tasks such as mine shutdowns. Business travellers also carry high-value items, such as laptop computers and smartphones, which can be exploited,” Cook says.
This is because business travellers usually rely on internet to answer emails and conduct online meetings, typically while logged into unfamiliar Wi-Fi hosts in airports and hotels that may not be secure. If breached, companies risk the employee’s personal details being captured as well as potentially sensitive corporate information.
While business travellers are exposed to fraud, Cook also foresees crimes such as hotel room theft, and possibly kidnappings, increasing in certain destinations.
Knowledge is the best defence, and businesses should be upskilling their staff and equipping them with the information to protect themselves. Yet providing staff with adequate information is a challenge in a world where border restrictions are changing daily, and new hot spots can emerge within 24 hours, as seen with New Zealand’s sudden move back to Stage 4 restrictions recently.
“At World Travel Protection, we’re fortunate to have terrific intelligence that is constantly being updated,” says Cook, who oversees the company’s intelligence gathering operations from its new state-of-the-art command centre in Brisbane.
“A lot of businesses, particularly SMEs, don’t necessarily have the resources to identify threats and make informed decisions that enable travel to continue. Our corporate clients are able to access our Travel Assist Risk Management Portal and read up-to-date information provided by our analysts, which they can then take away and incorporate into their own risk-management processes.”
In addition to providing valuable information, World Travel Protection can also work with businesses and educational institutions to tailor solutions that suit them.
“The world’s not the same at the moment and every country has restrictions in place. It’s important we are aware of these restrictions, so we can be in a position to take advantage of any opportunities as they arise.
“One minute I could be speaking to a University about how best to support their international students, the next might be a mining company about opening up operations in Ecuador. With the right information at hand, we are able to make informed decisions, which allows for a successful return to ‘business as usual’.”
More recently, Cook worked to secure safe passage for two American school teachers stranded in Zambia by the pandemic. The pair had attempted to return home on their own but made it as far as Ethiopia before border rules changed, causing their travel plans to halt suddenly. Fortunately, Cook and his team were able to secure seats on a charter flight to get them home. They also worked with their local contacts in Ethiopia to quickly identify hotels that were still operating, where the teachers could be comfortable while they waited for their flight.
Rodger Cook’s top three tips for safe business travel during COVID-19
- Do your due diligence and research on where you’ll be travelling and engage with a specialist provider who understands the variety of risks you might face.
- It is more important than ever to maintain a low profile and ensure that your tech is protected.
- Consider all aspects of the trip including any stopovers and consider the implications should the travel restrictions change.