The Impact of Cybersecurity on Homelessness: A Hidden Crisis

Person typing on phone - cybersecurity
Cybersecurity is linked to homelessness in unexpected ways. Learn more below.

Cybersecurity is a word we hear a lot, with news feeds and social media platforms warning us about cyber threats like financial scams, identity theft, and corporate espionage.

Many people in the UK don’t have the digital skills needed to deal with this issues safely. This can be due to various reasons such as brain injuries, limited English proficiency, or difficulty accessing new technologies.

Our experience of supporting people sleeping rough in Westminster tells us that this is also likely to affect people at risk of homelessness, who often struggle with the complex needs listed above.

In addition, people at risk of facing homelessness may become desperate in their search for housing security, leading to many being tricked by scams which promise financial security.

These cyber-threats prey on the most vurunable like those already at risk of homelessness. For many then, well targeted scams or hacks can quickly result in people struggling financially and being pushed over the edge into homelessness.

Financial risks and identity theft

Lacking cybersecurity can lead to information like bank account details being stolen. This means scammers and hackers could access a person’s bank account and take funds from it.

For someone living paycheck to paycheck, losing their entire bank balance can mean being unable to afford rent, utilities, or even food for themselves and their families.

Additionally, cybercriminals can use stolen information to gain credit or max out existing lines of credit owned by a person they can damage the victim’s credit history.

A poor credit score not only makes it difficult to secure loans or credit cards in the future but can also lead to higher interest rates and denials for housing and employment opportunities.

Beyond the immediate financial implications here, the mental toll of falling victim to cybercrime can be immense. The stress and anxiety of dealing with financial loss and potential long-term consequences can take a severe toll on mental health.

Over 80% of people currently sleeping rough view poor mental health as a cause of their homelessness. When this is combined with financial issues, homelessness can become a threat quickly.

Vulnerability of people sleeping rough

Cybersecurity is also an issue for people already on the streets.

For example, people sleeping rough often rely on public Wi-Fi networks, which are very insecure. This makes them easy targets for cybercriminals who could easily access their information.

Moreover, the lack of a stable address and reliable internet access can make it difficult for people sleeping rough to check on their bank accounts regularly, This means fraudulent activity may go undeterred, allowing cyber attacks to continue and worsen over time.

Even if someone does have access to devices and safe WIFI (like we offer at our day centre) sleeping on the streets also exposes people to an increased risk of the theft of their electronic devices. For many, smartphones or tablets act as lifelines, connecting them to vital services, job opportunities, and social support networks.

However, the very act of sleeping rough makes them vulnerable to theft, as a person’s possessions are left unattended and unprotected while sleeping. This is especially true for areas with high rates of crime as we see in Westminster.

Thieves may seize the opportunity to snatch these devices, not only taking away a person’s means of communication but also gaining access to sensitive personal information stored on these devices. From email accounts to banking apps, these devices store data that can be exploited for identity theft or financial fraud.

Cybersecurity and Access to Services

Many services people need to access when recovering from homelessness require online applications and communications.

While many won’t be able to access these, due to limited digital literacy and/or lack of access to needed devices, others may fear having personal information stolen due to the above risks. This can deter people from seeking help online.

How do we restore cybersecurity for people facing homelessness?

One step we can take to support people with cybersecurity is to increase awareness.

Support groups and accessible information can empower people to protect their personal information and recognise potential threats.

To conclude, cybersecurity is not just a technical issue but a human one. Understanding and addressing its broader implications is essential for building a safer, more inclusive society.

To find out more about our work, the issues people sleeping rough face and how we’re making a difference join our community.