The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has been bombarded with over 160,000 suspicious emails linked to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic that were forwarded to it by members of the public and has removed more than 300 bogus websites from the internet in the fortnight since it launched its reporting service.
The NCSC said it received additional 10,000 reports in the space of 24 hours last week after the service was featured by consumer rights advocate Martin Lewis in his regular MoneySavingExpert newsletter and on his ITV show.
Among some of the more frequently seen scams linked to the pandemic were fake offers of coronavirus testing kits, vaccines (no vaccine exists), face masks, and other personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as fraud attempts linked to the government’s payments scheme for furloughed employees and TV licensing.
“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,” said NCSC chief executive Ciaran Martin.
“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.”
MoneySavingExpert’s Martin Lewis added: “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 mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org and know that someone will take action.”
However, members of the public can still do more, said Lewis, who called for more “social policing” as well. “Everyone that can spot a scam must take up arms and report it to protect those who can’t,” he said. “It’s why I’ve shouted it from the roof tops on my show, MoneySavingExpert, and social media, and we’ve seen the rate of reports quadruple, which is proof people are ready to do their bit.”
The NCSC’s Suspicious Email Reporting Service was co-developed alongside the City of London Police, which also leads on anti-fraud activity for the rest of the UK. Law enforcement is also able to benefit from the service by pulling live-time analysis of reports from the public, which can help them identify new scams and new patterns in online offending quicker than was previously possible.
Commander Karen Baxter of the City of London Police 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.”
Baxter added that fraud remains an widely unreported crime, so the more the police can understand about its true prevalence the better for everybody, and the more chance victims have of achieving justice.
This week a Home Office-backed study by crime researchers at the University of Portsmouth found that a lack of resources and a failure to implement an effective cross-force response had left many police forces all at sea when it came to fighting cyber crime.
The researchers interviewed hundreds of victims of online crime and found that many felt they faced barriers to reporting cyber crime, received inadequate support, and rarely if ever achieved justice.
“Despite nearly a million computer misuse crimes being reported in the 2018 England and Wales crime survey, just 23,683 were recorded by Action Fraud,” said Mark Button, director of the university’s Centre for Counter-Fraud Studies. “This illustrates significant under-reporting and highlights a subsequent lack of support for those who have often been left deeply affected by the crimes.”
Read more about online scams
- IT teams must take proactive measures to address security awareness when it comes to email. Learn about the types of phishing scams to mitigate risk.
- Banking sector initiative aims to protect 50 genuine brands and government organisations from being impersonated by cyber criminals.
- Cyber criminals “may soon shift to heavier exploitation of footholds established through phishing and other scams”, warns the Cyber Threat Coalition.