UAE consumers can now buy insurance to protect against online scams

Etisalat becomes latest communications company to offer protection

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People should consider obtaining personal insurance to protect against online scams, experts say.

They are warning that a rise in the amount of fake emails, bogus calls and duplicitous text messages aimed at tricking people into divulging personal details, stealing their money and even their identities warrants such measures.

The UAE's Etisalat is the latest company to offer personal cyber crime insurance to safeguard against online banking fraud, credit card scams, loss of internet purchases, cyber extortion and identity theft.

The policies offered by Etisalat for personal insurance start from Dh63 for a single device, which covers a potential payout of $5,000 if funds are stolen.

Etisalat customers can purchase cyber crime insurance from the provider's website. A policy can usually be set up directly on the website by sharing contact details and providing photo identification, such as an Emirates ID.

Few companies are willing to cover personal losses
Morey Haber, chief security officer, BeyondTrust

Cyber crime is a broad term and includes everything from financial theft to data breaches. The rise of remote working and rapid digital transformation because of the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in an increase in cyber crime globally, experts say.

“The demand for insurance against cyber threats has grown over the past five years,” said Vitaliy Trifonov, creative technical director for cyber security company Group-IB.

“As the number of cyber threats increases, many individuals will prefer not to devote their time to self-protection, thus creating a growing need for simpler and more accessible solutions. This is precisely where personal insurance will play a crucial role.

“While it may not become as ubiquitous as car insurance, it is possible that certain types of financial transactions or services could eventually require proof of cyber crime insurance to mitigate risk for both customers and financial institutions.”

Surge in threats facing the public

In the UAE, 64 per cent of businesses suffered at least one ransomware attack last year, a report by US-based cyber security company Proofpoint said.

Ransomware attacks involve stealing files and demanding money to release them. Also this year, the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority, warned the UAE public about cyber criminals sending messages that appeared to be from reputable courier companies.

The fraudsters then dupe unsuspecting people to hand over money. Research in 2021 by UK technology website Comparitech estimated that UAE residents lose $746 million a year to cybercrime.

The amount of cyber threats on individuals is only going to increase in the coming years, said another expert.

“I expect to see an increase in personal cyber security related incidents that will target the identity of the individual and their financial posture,” said Morey Haber, chief security officer, with cyber firm BeyondTrust.

“These attacks will most likely be conducted using social engineering such as email, text messages, and phone calls or malware in rogue applications, that compromise a user’s assets and maliciously influence social media or directly conduct financial thefts through banking or online purchasing.”

Mr Haber said users of crypto currencies are at a heightened risk for these attacks and it is not clear whether cyber insurance would cover attacks against digital wallets or not unless provided by a regulated bank.

He said US-based NortonLifeLock was an example of how companies can offer insurance against cyber theft. That model offers to monitor your personal identity, internet use and banking activity, and pinpoints possible threats.

“But few [companies] are willing to cover personal losses,” he said.

“This alone creates a market that Etisalat is willing to provide coverage for, and may be driven by the frequency of cybercrimes targeting mobile devices for exploitation.”

Mr Haber said personal cyber insurance is likely to pay out for losses associated with fictitious online banking charges, credit card theft as well as purchases through the internet using payment services, such as PayPal or Venmo.

“End users should consider purchasing a personal cyber insurance policy, or a personal identity threat-monitoring service, that provides coverage, if they are worried about electronic identity theft that can have a financial impact,” said Mr Haber.

Who would benefit from cybercrime insurance?

Mr Haber said those who might benefit from such insurance include people who travel frequently and use foreign mobile phone carriers and Wi-Fi networks that could be compromised; those with multiple credit cards and financial investments that are not monitored weekly; people who use credit cards for purchasing online merchandise locally or from foreign locations; and those who have properties locally or abroad that could be a victim of title deed theft.

However it is not simply a case of paying out for insurance and then relaxing. Mr Trifonov cautioned people would still need to remain on guard because often people do not use proper security measures or send money to manipulative fraudsters voluntarily.

“The policy may not pay out if the insured person fails to follow reasonable security practices or if the loss is caused by the policyholder’s deliberate actions,” he said.

“This may reduce the appeal of this type of insurance.”

Updated: April 10, 2023, 11:22 AM