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Stay alert and help thwart Covid cyber fraud

Is that email from the NHS or a fraudster?

Stay alert and help thwart Covid cyber fraud

Stopping to think about a request for payment could prevent you being scammed by those exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic for their own ends.

That is the message from the Devon and Cornwall Cyber Protect Unit, which raises awareness of emerging threats and offers information and guidance to the public.

The pandemic has seen a significant rise in attempted scams in recent months, with ActionFraud - the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime - reporting that an email attempting to trick people into handing over bank details was reported to it more than 1,000 times in 24 hours recently.

The cyber protect unit’s Laura Cowie said that with a few precautions these increasingly sophisticated attempts can be thwarted.

“We see around 600 cases a month in Devon and Cornwall but the extent of the problem is probably far greater because so much goes unreported,” she said.

“Phishing emails (correspondence requesting personal information) are one of the most common practices, and we have seen these purporting to come from the NHS, parcel delivery firms or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, telling people they are eligible for a tax rebate because of coronavirus. Cyber criminals will use any opportunity to exploit their victims.

“It is definitely a case of prevention being better than cure, if you are talking to someone online who you have not met in person as soon as they start asking for money, it’s 99.9% likely that they are trying to defraud you.”

Laura advises pausing and reflecting on the veracity of an email or a conversation before transferring funds.

“They will often try to imply urgency, but if you take a moment to consider the request carefully it can save a huge amount of heartbreak and money,” she added.

 “If it is too late and you have given away banking information or personal information you should contact your bank and ActionFraud as soon as possible.”

ActionFraud advises you can be contacted by the NHS, your employer, a GP surgery or pharmacy local to you, to receive a vaccine, which is free of charge.

The NHS will never:

  • ask  for a bank account or card details
  • ask for a PIN or banking password
  • arrive unannounced at your home to administer the vaccine
  • ask you to prove your identity by sending copies of documents such as your passport, driving licence, bills or pay slips

The National Cyber Security Centre has detected thousands of fraudulent websites, prevented thousands of attacks and issued dozens of alerts about new threats since it was set up last April. It asks members of the public to forward suspicious emails or website links to so they can be investigated. 

More information and advice on avoiding frauds or what to do if you have been caught is available on the ActionFraud website or via the ActionFraud helpline on 0300 123400.