Coronavirus: British spies take on fraudsters selling fake Covid-19 equipment

300 websites and 160,000 emails exposed by government's electronic surveillance service

Employees sew protective face masks inside the Toyota Motor Manufacturing France plant in Onnaing during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in France, May 7, 2020. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
Employees sew protective face masks inside the Toyota Motor Manufacturing France plant in Onnaing during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in France, May 7, 2020. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

A huge online fraud industry selling fake Covid-19 testing kits, face masks and vaccines has been uncovered by Britain’s surveillance headquarters.

More than 300 false websites and 160,000 emails were discovered as fraudsters attempt to take advantage of worries over infection.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), a part of the GCHQ spy centre, have removed the bogus websites after a spike in reports from the public.

The Suspicious Email Reporting Service was highlighted on The Martin Lewis Money Show resulting in 10,000 additional reports in a day.

Mr Lewis, the founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, described an “explosion” of scam adverts in Britain following the virus outbreak.

“The NCSC’s new report-and-remove function is so vital… at last, we can forward scams [and] know that someone will take action,” he said. “Yet we need what I call ‘social policing’ too – everyone that can spot a scam must take up arms and report it to protect those who can’t.”

The NCSC saw a rise in cyber crime exploiting the coronavirus pandemic last month.

They have published examples of scam websites they removed that featured mock-ups of official GOV.uk and TV licencing websites. Visitors are lured into giving their billing information to scammers posing as these legitimate organisations.

Commander Karen Baxter, from the City of London Police which helped develop the Suspicious Email Reporting Service, said: “While the world is coming together to combat this global health crisis, criminals are intent on exploiting our unease, anxiety and vulnerabilities in these unprecedented times.

“The fact the public have taken the opportunity to fight back and show these criminals how unacceptable this is, is fantastic.”

Published: May 7, 2020 02:14 PM

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