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How to Prevent Unwanted Spam from COVID Sign Ins

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While the law in Australia changed to mandate signing in at cafés, restaurants, libraries and many other venues, there was little to educate the public about their data privacy rights. Recently, I have seen an increase in unwanted email marketing from the venues I’ve visited this year.

Many of these venues have scrambled to implement systems that in many cases have not been thoroughly tested. They may not have any data privacy or data retention policies in place.

There is one public venue that I attend regularly that has a faulty QR code system in place. I can easily add extra fake people and even add ten bogus dependents. One time I forgot to check out, and I discovered that I could check out of the venue at 10pm (well past the venue’s closing time and many hours after I have left).

Fortunately, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) regulates communication and media in Australia.

Australia has a Spam Act

There is a Spam Act that specifics the laws about sending emails. A business must first have permission to send a marketing message or email (including on social media). This crucial step is often ignored or filed under ‘inferred permission’. A business can send someone an email if they are a current customer.

This law requires a business to make it easy for a customer to unsubscribe from the mailing list – another step often overlooked by small businesses.

Opt Out of Marketing and Promotional Material

Some venues will give you the option to opt-out of receiving marketing material – be super careful as this box is sometimes ticked as default.

Use a Second or Burner Email Address

You might think that burner phone numbers are just for criminals, but you can use one too. I have a dedicated email address that I use for the sole purpose of entering competitions – it’s an old one that gets tons of spam already, so I only check it once a fortnight. I’ve pretty much-declared email bankruptcy on this email account as I can’t keep up with the junk emails that are sent there.

Many of my younger digital-savvy friends are using their second or ‘burner’ email addresses for their COVID safe sign ins.

In these scenarios, it may be best to give the least amount of information required. Give a phone number or an email address, but not both. Provide one person’s contact details, rather than the whole family’s contact details. Do not give out your birth date – this is not required.

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Consider using the paper version over the digital version

You might have fallen into the habit of using a QR code to sign in to a venue. It can be a quicker and more hygienic option. If you bring your own pen and write down your details there is less chance that the venue will spend the time to transcribe your details into electronic format.

When you sign in with an online form or program, the information can be stored as a long list of names, emails and contact details. It is simple to use this information to import into an email program for sending marketing material. I could do this step in under 15 minutes – you don’t have to be a hard-core programmer or hacker.

Beware of Fake QR Codes

Did you know that QR stands for quick response? QR codes are turning up everywhere and might be a quick way to sign in to a venue. But be wary of fake QR codes that may send you to a dodgy website or facilitate downloading a dodgy app with a virus. It’s very hard to spot a malicious QR code – so make sure your phone as added security software like TrendMicro or Kaspersky.

How to Block Spam Email on Gmail and Outlook

Refuse to enter the venue

A couple of times, I’ve decided I couldn’t be bothered with the COVID safe protocols, or I didn’t feel like I had enough time. Once I just wanted to quickly walk around a display home – there was no one else there, so I changed my mind.

Another time, I had a bottle of sanitizer slammed in my face – just after I had entered another shop and already sanitized my hands, so again I changed my mind.

With the convenience of online shopping, it’s easy to conduct your research and shortlist want you want to buy online. In many instances, there is less need to enter a physical brick and mortar store.

Complain about Unwanted Spam

It’s best to complain to the business directly about any unwanted spam.

Be super careful who you give your personal details to – follow the rules, but remember that in many circumstances less may be better than more.

What steps and measures have you adopted to prevent any unwanted spam as a result of COVID sign-ins? Have you seen an increase in unwanted spam?

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Helpful Resources for Cyber Security

ABC’s Venue QR codes: is your data safe? https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/am/venue-qr-codes:-is-your-data-safe/12825006

To report a scam, visit the Scamwatch website: https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/

To report a cybercrime, visit: https://www.cyber.gov.au/acsc/report

For assistance with identity theft, data breaches and cyber security: https://www.idcare.org/

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Written by Emma Crameri

I am a Brisbane-based freelance technical reviewer and writer. I have experience working in ICT, online education and digital marketing. I can turn your ideas into engaging and shareable online content. I'm an early adopter with both Android and Apple devices. I'm also the Editor of the Brisbanista website.

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