Citizens flagged over 160,000 suspicious emails to NCSC in two weeks

The National Cyber Security Centre's new Suspicious Email Reporting Service is beginning to pay off as far as fighting cyber crime is concerned with the British public reporting over 160,000 suspicious emails to the new service in just two weeks.

On 21st April, NCSC launched the Suspicious Email Reporting Service to allow Internet users to report suspicious emails, including those claiming to offer services related to coronavirus. The new service was launched with the aim of tracing and shutting down fake online shops offering coronavirus related items, malware distribution websites, phishing sits seeking personal information such as passwords or credit card details, and sites used to run advance-fee fraud campaigns.

NCSC said the reporting service will enable it to offer support to Internet users related to COVID-19. Any dubious emails forwarded to the service will automatically test the validity of websites and any sites found to be part of phishing scams will be removed immediately. NCSC will also support the police by providing live time analysis of reports and identifying new patterns in online offending - helping them stop even more offenders in their tracks.

Within a day after launching the service, citizens made over 5,000 complaints concerning suspicious emails for investigation, enabling NCSC to successfully shut down 83 malicious web campaigns. “The immediate take-up of our new national reporting service shows that the UK is united in its defence against callous attempts to trick people online. While we have not seen a rise in email scams in the last month, coronavirus is the top lure currently used to conduct cyber crime, exploiting public unease and fear of the pandemic,” said Ciaran Martin, chief executive officer of NCSC.

NCSC takes down 300 fake websites run by cyber criminals

Earlier today, NCSC announced that in the two weeks since the launch of the Suspicious Email Reporting Service, the British public flagged over 160,000 suspicious emails, many of which were fake offers of testing kits and face masks. Thanks to active reporting, the government's cyber security experts were able to trace and take down over 300 bogus websites.

NCSC said the promotion of the reporting service on The Martin Lewis Money Show, in MoneySavingExpert's newsletters and social media channels resulted in over 10,000 additional reports in just one day.

“This really is a phenomenal response from the British public. I would like to thank them for embracing our reporting service as well as the many organisations which have promoted it,” said Ciaran Martin.

“While cyber criminals continue to prey on people’s fears, the number of scams we have removed in such a short timeframe shows what a vital role the public can play in fighting back. I would urge people to remain vigilant and to forward suspect emails to us. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is,” he added.

Concerted campaign to trace phishing campaigns leveraging the pandemic

Even before the reporting service was launched, NCSC had been constantly monitoring the Web for fraudulent scams and phishing campaigns leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic. In a period of thirty days between March and April, it removed more than 2,000 online scams related to coronavirus that included:

  • 471 fake online shops selling fraudulent coronavirus related items
  • 555 malware distribution sites set up to cause significant damage to any visitors
  • 200 phishing sites seeking personal information such as passwords or credit card details
  • 832 advance-fee frauds where a large sum of money is promised in return for a set-up payment

In mid-April, the National Crime Agency also arrested a pharmacist and a surveyor who tried to illegally sell coronavirus testing kits by fooling users and making false and misleading claims about the tests’ capability through a fake website.

“Criminals capitalise on fear and anxiety and they will exploit any opportunity, no matter how awful, to line their pockets. Illegally selling testing kits completely undermines the nation’s collective response to the pandemic and actually endangers lives.

"Anyone thinking of trying to profit in this way should take note of these arrests and that bringing these offenders to justice and ceasing their activities is a key priority across law enforcement,” said Nikki Holland, NCA Director of Investigations.

Graeme Biggar, Director General of the National Economic Crime Centre, said, “Covid-19 is increasingly being used as a hook to commit fraud – and we think these offences are likely to increase during the pandemic. Individuals and businesses need to be fully prepared for criminals trying to turn the pandemic to their advantage by scamming them out of money.

“If you think you’ve fallen for a scam, contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud. If you are in Scotland report it to Police Scotland directly by calling 101,” he added.

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