Coronavirus: Government cyber experts shine light on online scams

Cyber security experts today lifted the lid on some of the online scams which the public have reported to the UK’s pioneering new Suspicious Email Reporting Service.

Emails reported to the National Cyber Security Centre, a part of GCHQ, include callous attempts by criminals to exploit the coronavirus through fake offers of face masks and testing kits.

In just over two weeks since the NCSC and police launched the service, the public has passed on more than 160,000 suspect emails, with more than 300 bogus sites taken down.

There was a spike in reports being received after the service was promoted on The Martin Lewis Money Show last week – resulting in over 10,000 additional reports in just one day.

Further promotion in MoneySavingExpert’s newsletter and social media channels resulted in tens of thousands more reports being flagged to the NCSC.

Ciaran Martin, Chief Executive of the NCSC, said:

“This really is a phenomenal response from the British public. I would like to thank them for embracing our reporting service as well as the many organisations which have promoted it. 

“While cyber criminals continue to prey on people’s fears, the number of scams we have removed in such a short timeframe shows what a vital role the public can play in fighting back.

“I would urge people to remain vigilant and to forward suspect emails to us. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said

“There’s been an explosion of scam adverts in the UK. We’ve been fighting them on all fronts, I’ve even sued, but the toughest nut to crack is scam emails, because emails come from everywhere.

“That’s why the NCSC’s new report-and-remove function is so vital… at last, we can forward scams to report@phishing.gov.uk and know that someone will take action.

“Yet we need what I call ‘social policing’ too – everyone that can spot a scam must take up arms and report it to protect those who can’t. It’s why I’ve shouted it from the roof tops on my show, MSE and social media, and we’ve seen the rate of reports quadruple, which is proof people are ready to do their bit.”

Today the NCSC has shared some examples of what it has removed thanks to the reporting service, including scam web pages purporting to sell coronavirus linked bogus products such as testing kits, face makes and even vaccines. The NCSC noted a rise in cyber crime exploiting the coronavirus pandemic last month.

They have also published examples of taken down scam website featuring mock-ups of official GOV.uk and TV licencing websites. Visitors are lured into giving their billing information to scammers posing as these legitimate organisations.

The automated email reporting service makes it easier than ever for people to help protect others from falling victim to scams.

To use it, people are asked to simply forward suspect emails to report@phishing.gov.uk. If they are found to link to malicious content, it will be taken down or blocked, helping prevent future victims of crime.

The Suspicious Email Reporting Service was co-developed with the City of London Police. As well as taking down malicious sites it will support UK policing by providing live time analysis of reports and identifying new patterns in online offending – helping them stop even more offenders in their tracks.

Commander Karen Baxter, City of London Police, National Lead Force for Fraud, said:

“While the world is coming together to combat this global health crisis, criminals are intent on exploiting our unease, anxiety and vulnerabilities in these unprecedented times.

“The fact the public have taken the opportunity to fight back and show these criminals how unacceptable this is, is fantastic.

“Fraud is an incredibly underreported crime. The more the police know about fraud, and fraud attempts, the better chance they have of tracking down those responsible and bringing them to justice.”

The service was launched alongside the new cross-governmental Cyber Aware campaign, which promotes six top tips to help keep yourself secure online.

If people have lost money, they should tell their bank and report it as a crime to Action Fraud, but sending emails to report@phishing.gov.uk will offer an automated service to people who flag what they think to be a suspicious email and prevent others from falling victim to these scams.

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