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Cyber cons capitalising on coronavirus crisis

Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils are urging vigilance against rising numbers of coronavirus cons, with over 2,000 online scams identified in the last month alone.

 

Opportunistic traders and scammers have made almost £2 million by taking advantage of the Covid-19 crisis. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is encouraging consumers to fight back, with the launch of its Cyber Aware campaign today, which both councils are supporting. 

 

This follows the government body successfully stopping over 2,000 incidents of cyber fraud last month. Included in this figure was 471 fake online shops found to be selling fraudulent coronavirus related items.

 

There have been numerous reports nationally about phony shop fronts selling highly sought-after items such as anti-bacterial hand sanitiser and face masks. To protect themselves consumers should only make purchases directly from reputable stores and websites.

This isn’t the only retail scam that victims can fall prey to, as the sale of ‘miracle’ health products is another tactic employed by scammers. Fraudsters are creating convincing personal testimonials to support their claims, but these are easy to fabricate and are not a substitute for scientific evidence or government guidance.

Phishing, another ploy used by cons to convince victims to give away sensitive information or click on links within a scam email or text message, is also on the rise, with the NCSC shutting down over 200 phishing sites in March. Not revealing personal or financial data on an unsecure website or in an e-mail, or responding to requests for this information, is the best way to combat this crime.

Some of the common phishing emails include messages fraudulently claiming to be from HM Revenue & Customs offering tax rebates as a result of the crisis. Other emails report to have news about the disease and prompt readers to download malicious software or visit malware distribution sites, set up to cause significant damage to visitors. 555 such sites have recently been removed by the NCSC.

Installing the most up to date software and apps will protect devices from the latest cyber threats. A strong password, which is made up of three random words and differs to others, should be used for personal email accounts, as this is a gateway for other online accounts.

Any suspicious emails should be forwarded to report@phishing.gov.uk, as the NCSC’s automated scanning system will check for email scams and immediately remove criminal sites.

Cllr Derek Davis, Cabinet Member for Communities for Babergh District Council said:

“Sadly, Suffolk is not immune to this wave of coronavirus related crime. We are aware of con artists claiming to assist local businesses with obtaining a government grant for a small one-off payment. The reality is that there’s no fee payable to receive these grants.

 “To safeguard against this, businesses who may be eligible for help made available in light of the COVID-19 emergency should contact our district councils directly, if they haven’t already received correspondence about grants on offer.”

 Cllr Julie Flatman, Cabinet Member for Communities and Housing for Mid Suffolk District Council said:

“Technology is helping us to feel connected during the current crisis, but unfortunately heartless criminals are exploiting this for their own financial gain.

“Our collaborative initiative Home But Not Alone, which helps to meet the urgent needs of Suffolk’s most vulnerable residents, is a free service. If you are asked for payment or bank details this could be a scam and should be reported to Trading Standards on 0808 223 1133.”