Cybersecurity Advice for Patients with Cancer: ‘Think It Through’

Two experts bring cybersecurity awareness surrounding scammers targeting individuals with cancer.

For patients with cancer, cybersecurity is an increasingly important concern.

“Healthcare has continued to become more and more digital,” said David A. Jaffray, chief technology and digital officer of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “In particular, in the cancer context, we rely on digital technologies to allow us to schedule patients [and] to communicate with patients, but also we use digital technologies to run our systems, like our chemotherapy systems and our radiation treatments and coordinate surgery, and so on, so forth. And so, digital technologies are increasingly critical to allowing us to deliver effective high quality and safe cancer services to our patients.”

As CURE® has reported, scammers are targeting patients via a myriad of methods. CURE® spoke with experts, including Jaffray and Duke Han, a professor of psychology and family medicine at Keck School of Medicine of USC in Los Angeles, about strategies and measures patients can deploy in order to increase their online data security.

Treat Communication With a Suspicious Eye

Jaffray advocated for patients “teaching yourself how to be suspicious on emails, on texts [and] reading with a degree of criticality.” He recommended the STAR method: stop, think, act, review.

“Just think it through,” he said. “Stop, don’t just click so quickly because you’re curious or you’re rushing. Every one of these links that you may get in email or on a chat is an opportunity for someone to glean additional information from you. So, interrogate the link and make sure you recognize the sender. Don’t share any additional information, never share your usernames or passwords with anybody.”

Be Skeptical About Any Treatment Options Not Offered By Your Doctor

“There are a lot of treatment scams in the context of cancer,” said Han. “I think to avoid some of those people should be wary about being pressured to make a decision in a rapid way. Scammers know that they leverage you [when] there’s time pressure or this emotional pressure to try to get someone to respond to the scam.”

Patients, Han advised, should be wary of anything not recommended or endorsed by a doctor.

Be Careful About Sharing Your Diagnosis

“There’s a lot of people who take advantage of cancer patients, particularly when their diagnoses are discovered,” Han said. “And so, one tip off the bat is I would encourage people not to share their diagnosis too broadly, or publicly. And in particular, things like social media, particularly if they’re publicly accessible, those are things that scam and fraud criminals actually like to see and identify, and then that identifies a potential victim in their mind.”

Watch Out For Testimonials

“It could be a video or written format,” Han said, “but, you know, a single testimonial isn’t evidence for efficacy. Someone shouldn’t trust the testimonial over, for example, [an] FDA approval or a doctor-recommended approach. And I think scam and fraud criminals like to use testimonials because they can seem really compelling, really emotionally gripping.”

Be Aware of Potential Voice-Based Scams

“We’re seeing a lot more voice-based approaches to try to convince people and there’s a lot of new technology on mimicking voice out there,” Jaffray said. “So, [this is] very much an emerging approach where people can take a few snippets of someone’s voice and create a pretty reasonable mimic using generative technology. So, cross-examine these kinds of things. … It is very much a new frontier, but very real.”

Caregivers Should Check In

Loneliness and isolation, Han noted, are risk factors for financial abuse — which makes the role of a caregiver particularly important.

“The more connected people are, the more people are checking in, the more people can kind of see what’s going on, the more protective people are,” Han said. “And so … the more connected caregivers [and] family members can be to people going through cancer, I think that that on its own can do a lot to help protect [patients with cancer] going through this.”

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.

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