COVID-19: How to help the vulnerable in your community

Published on Thursday, March 26, 2020 - 16:20 by Cameron Troake

COVID-19 has meant that the world is shutting down. Places that were once hives of activity have become ghost towns, and the huge restrictions being put on our lives are the most invasive since the war - from lockdowns and school closures to travel restrictions and bans on mass gatherings. 

There are some people who are more vulnerable than others in our current climate, and it’s important to ensure these individuals can get help if they are self-isolating for long periods of time. There has been a heart-warming response from community leaders across the UK who have been making sure people in the area are aware of those individuals who are vulnerable and may need some additional help over the next few months. 

However, helping these individuals shouldn’t introduce them to new risks. Lists of vulnerable individuals along with their addresses and contact details are very attractive to scammers, and just as there are community leaders who are rising up to help in our time of need, there will be some people who try and take advantage of this period of uncertainty and fear. 

If you’re making one of these lists with the intention of sharing it around your community or posting it on social media, you will need to ensure it is protected so it cannot fall into the wrong hands. There are several things you can do to safeguard people’s personal information: 

Minimise the number of people who can access the whole list: operate on a “need to know” basis, does everyone need to be able to see the entire list? Probably not. Be selective - the fewer people who have access to the entire list means the fewer touch points there are for things to go awry. 

Maintain several small lists in different locations: avoid making one big list with everyone’s details, as if it gets into the wrong hands everyone in your area will be affected. Breaking the list down into smaller chunks and spreading the information out reduces the number of people who can be targeted if one list is compromised. You could break the list down alphabetically, or by area. Equally, ensuring that the location of each list is different means that if one site is comprised, scammers can’t access information for the whole community. 

Password protect your list or restrict access to the file location: ensure only the people who you want to see the lists can access them by password protecting the file or restricting access to the location. If possible, it’s a good idea to change the password every few weeks and redistribute it to the people you trust to maximise protection. 

Minimise the amount of information on the list: restrict the amount of information your list contains to the bare minimum. If it doesn’t have to be on the list, don’t include it – ensure there is only enough information to help you complete the tasks you need to do and nothing more. 

Codify your lists: if possible, create a code for your list which makes it harder for unwanted outsiders to understand the information without stopping you from using it. If you’re going to share your coding system with others, make sure any documentation which outlines how the code works is stored in a different location to your lists. 

Vulnerable individuals may well already be on a scammer’s radar, and may be even more at risk whilst self-isolating alone without regular contact with their peers. Make sure you continue to touch base and check in on them, ensure they are aware of the dangers and ask them about the emails or calls they are receiving. Have they received anything suspicious, or has anyone tried to ask them for personal information or money?  

We live in uncertain times and unfortunately there are going to be people out there who prey on that uncertainty. Innocently sharing someone’s contact details on a public forum to be helpful can have consequences if those details end up in the wrong hands. Ensuring we come together and protect the most vulnerable has never been more important, but also ensuring we don’t introduce them to new risks which may not have been considered previously is equally crucial. 

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