Pop singer Ed Sheeran, entrepreneur Richard Branson and money-saving expert Martin Lewis are among the celebrities whose names are being co-opted by cyber criminals to promote fake investment opportunities, according to a new warning from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).
The NCSC’s latest consumer warning comes in the midst of a major push at the agency to take down more than 300,000 malicious URLs linking to investment scams in the past four months. It has reported a surge in suspicious emails and online adverts driving traffic to spoofed articles exploiting the brand value of various celebrities.
NCSC CEO Ciaran Martin said: “These investment scams are a striking example of the kind of methods cyber criminals are now deploying to try to con people. We are exposing them today not only to raise public awareness, but to show the criminals behind them that we know what they’re up to and are taking action to stop it.
“I would urge the public to continue doing what they have been doing so brilliantly and forward anything they think doesn’t look right to our Suspicious Email Reporting Service.”
People taken in by the scam will end up on hoax websites that contain information on fake get-rich-quick schemes, where they are encouraged to click a link to invest – usually on the promise of unrealistic returns on their money. With depressing certainty, the money invested will end up in the hands of cyber criminals, and there are no returns to be had.
Clinton Blackburn of the City of London Police said: “These figures provide a stark warning that people need to be wary of fake investments on online platforms. Celebrity endorsements are just one way criminals can promote bogus schemes online. People should not be fooled by images of luxury items such as expensive watches and cars, and posts on social media showing extravagant lifestyles, which are often used to persuade you to invest.
“To those of you who might be tempted, remember, not every investment opportunity is genuine. Criminals will do all they can to make their scams appear legitimate. It is vital you do your research and carry out the necessary checks to ensure that an investment you are considering is legitimate.”
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People who do fall victim to online fraudsters now have a multitude of reporting mechanisms at their disposal, but the first step should be to contact your bank immediately. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you should then report it as a crime to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or in Scotland to Police Scotland on 101.
Eagle-eyed consumers can also report any suspicious emails they receive to the NCSC’s Suspicious Email Reporting Service (SERS), which launched in April as malicious email activity coalesced around the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. It has now received 1.8 million reports, as a result of which, 16,800 malicious URLs have been blocked or removed.
The SERS service can be reached by forwarding emails to [email protected]. Reports sent to the service are also used by the police to detect and mitigate cyber criminal activity better. The NCSC also offers more information on protecting yourself online through its Cyber Aware campaign.
You can also report online scam ads to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) through its recently launched Scam Ad Alert resource. The ASA works closely with online advertising networks and publishers to remove malicious ads as quickly as possible.