Cyber experts have taken down more scams in 2020 than in the previous three years combined.
Share this article
Scams have become an every day part of online life, with cyber criminals constantly evolving their tactics.
Over the past year, cyber experts have seen a rising number of campaigns related to coronavirus and the NHS, including emails and texts related to the vaccine rollout and bogus Covid-19 apps.
More widely, well-known names such as HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and TV Licensing are also being copied to dupe people into surrendering sensitive information, as well as using images of famous faces such as Martin Lewis and Sir Richard Branson in fake news articles.
Here, we explain what to be aware of and how to help prevent fraud.
– What attacks do I need to watch out for?
Phishing attacks are the ones to watch out for – these are emails and text messages that pretend to be someone you trust.
In the last year, a spate of attempts related to the pandemic have come to light, offering things such as vaccines, cures and even claiming people were being fined for breaking lockdown.
Perpetrators use all sorts of real-world concerns such as coronavirus to dupe people into reacting.
Often, the end goal is to convince users to click a link that will send them to a dodgy website that may look authentic, where a virus could be installed or people are tricked into revealing passwords and personal information.
– What can I do to spot suspicious messages?
According to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), there are several things to consider when trying to figure out whether a message is genuine or not.
First, authority, as criminals will often try to mimic important places such as banks or Government departments to get a person’s attention.
Consider the urgency. Messages that say you have a limited time to respond or face fines are used as a way to trick people into making rash decisions.
Does the message stir up emotions? Threatening language, dubious claims of support, or messages that try to tempt you into finding out more are signs.
Another thing to watch out for is if they are offering something in short supply, such as concert tickets, this again can be used to make people rush into it without thinking first.
And more pressingly, criminals will exploit current events – in the last year, it is not surprising that coronavirus has been a big focus. But other big events, such as tax reporting, is another area to be mindful of.
There are other tell-tale signs, too. Phishing attacks are sometimes vague using general terms such as “dear customer” instead of your name.
It is also important to remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
– How can I check if I’m not sure?
If you are unsure, go to an official source to check – do not interact with or go via the message you have received.
For example, if you have received something from HMRC or Royal Mail, contact them directly to find out whether it is legitimate, using their official website or contact number.
– What if I have already fallen victim to a scam?
If you have given banking details, you should contact your bank immediately and follow their instructions.
Those who think they have been hacked should change their passwords quickly and speak to their provider.
Anyone who believes they have installed a virus onto their device should run their antivirus software.
– Is there any way I can help?
The NCSC is removing more scam campaigns than ever before, with experts overseeing a 15-fold rise in 2020 compared to the previous year.
There are ways members of the public can help in this effort, by forwarding on suspicious messages to the NCSC for investigation.
Suspicious emails can be forwarded onto firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, dodgy text messages can be forwarded to 7726 for free.