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Hackers target Covid-19 anxiety: here’s how to protect yourself

Young people are being warned to be more aware of scams targeting Covid-19 anxiety. Phishing emails and pre-recorded phone calls are some of the scams to be wary of.

Phishing emails are unsolicited emails posing as a trustworthy source. They may be written in a way to gain an emotional response from the recipient, causing them to click on a link or reply with sensitive information e.g. bank details.

Advice direct from the Director of Operations at the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said: “We know that cyber criminals are opportunistic and will look to exploit people’s fears, and this has undoubtedly been the case with the coronavirus outbreak.”

At the beginning of the pandemic in the UK, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said: “There have been some cases reported of people fraudulently presenting themselves as WHO, or the COVID-19 Solidarity response fund, and/or sending invoices requesting payment on behalf of the fund.” The WHO will never send emails asking for money.

York St John University (YSJ) informed students of issues in September of emails claiming to be from the university asking students to click on a link and enter personal information. The risk of fraud is a lot higher during the pandemic, as people are relying more on technology to do work.

Joe O’Hallaran, a 2nd year student at YSJ said: “I received calls from an automated voice claiming to be Amazon Prime. They said my account would be deleted unless I pressed one and gave them my bank details.” Joe realised the call was a scam and no harm was done. But that isn’t the case for everyone. Another YSJ student, Dylan Parkin received a phishing email about tax. He said: “The email told me I was owed £300 in cash from a tax refund. It looked really legitimate.” The link had him enter bank details for a tax refund causing Dylan to become a victim of fraud. All the money in his bank account was stolen. He received a text from Santander alerting him of an unusual transaction. The Santander fraud department refunded him the money within four days but the attackers were never found.

Research by TSB found that 42% of Brits believe they’ve been targeted in recent months. And one in 10 people know someone who has been a victim of fraud over the lockdown period.

Things to look out for:

False Senders – spoof emails make it look like an email has come from a legitimate source. Always check the email address is something recognisable. If unsure, search the company’s website.

Malicious links / files – emails may contain links or files to open that look real. Clicking on them could give hackers access to put ransomware on a device. Ransomware is malicious software that displays a message over files trying to be accessed and demanding a fee be paid before they are released. Sometimes they are never released.

Simple things – spelling and grammar can be a big indicator that the person who sent the email may be suspicious. And if something seems ‘too good to be true’, then be wary of the intentions.

 

If you think you have received a fraudulent email, you can forward it to the Suspicious Email Reporting Service at report@phishing.gov.uk.

If you think you have already given out sensitive information to a hacker, then read the NCSC’s advice on what to do next.

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