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Opportunist cyber criminals use Covid-19 to target new victims

Photo by tookapic/Pixabay

With many staying at home due to the Covid-19 lockdown, cyber fraudsters have seen this increased online presence as an opportunity to scam people out of money and personal information.

The cyber criminals have turned to their usual email and messaging tactics, using coronavirus as a guise to gather valuable personal information from their victims.

In the midst of this global pandemic where people feel vulnerable, cyber fraudsters have used a coronavirus testing scam to target Gibraltarians amongst others.

A Royal Gibraltar Police spokesman told the Chronicle fraudsters were using WhatsApp to message their potential victims, stating they needed personal information from people in order to conduct a coronavirus test.

The messages came from across the world, including the Solomon Islands, a cluster islands in the South Pacific, just east of Papua New Guinea.

The Royal Gibraltar Police has advised people to remain vigilant online as criminals are increasingly looking to use the coronavirus pandemic as a way to scam.

But the issue is much larger than a few messages from the Solomon Islands.

In just the last month UK National Cyber Security Centre has removed more than 2,000 scams related to coronavirus, including over 450 fake online shops selling fraudulent Covid-19 related items and other scams.

Fraudulent online sellers have also honed into panic buying, advertising items such as medical face masks, hand sanitiser and even toilet paper, with no intention of shipping the items after payment.

Christian Celecia, Director of Information and Communication Technologies at the University of Gibraltar, highlighted the need for awareness of cyber security.

“Attackers are taking advantage of Covid-19 panic,” he said.

He advised people to avoid common coronavirus scams by questioning where the information has come from and “stick to trusted sources”.

“There has been a real surge in the registration of new domains that use the word ‘coronavirus’,” Mr Celecia said.

“Some of these will be put to a good use, but many will be used by hackers for malicious purposes.”

“These malicious websites might appear to offer news or advice on coronavirus outbreak but are being used for phishing or to spread malware.”

“Email impersonation scams often include links to this type of site.”

The RGP’s ongoing generic advice is that members of the public should not respond to emails or text messages from persons they are unacquainted with, particularly when these include unknown hyperlinks or originate from locations in which they have no families, friends or business relationships.

Gordon Paterson, NatWest Head of Local Banking, Gibraltar, has also warned of an increase in scams from fraudsters exploiting coronavirus concerns.

“We know scammers are using this current period of uncertainty as an opportunity to try and take advantage of the general public and their worries,” Mr Paterson said.

“We’ve seen an increase in criminals exploiting the coronavirus and using this as part of their scam tactics. Stay alert to any suspicious behaviour.”

He advised customers to be aware of unexpected phone calls, texts or emails about coronavirus and stressed that NatWest would never ask them for their full PIN or password, card reader or to move money.

He added people should not download attachments, software or let anyone remotely log into their computer following an unsolicited call or email.

“If you are ever asked to do any of these things, refuse and contact us immediately using the number on the back of your card or a number you trust,” he said.

“If possible, call us back from a different phone or mobile.”

Current scams include fake claims that governments have covered up a coronavirus cure and urging recipients to click on a link to receive more information about the cure, and impersonation emails from scammers that look like they come from trusted organisations or brands where opening an attachment infects the device with malware that monitors online activity and captures information.

Mr Paterson also warned of emails, ads, posts, texts or phone calls advertising anything to do with coronavirus.

“Whether it’s for facemasks, vaccines or access to testing kits – any deals that look too good to be true usually are,” Mr Paterson said.

He added: “There has been a huge increase in criminals trying to lure people into

becoming money mules through ‘get rich quick’ job offers during these uncertain times. If a job ad looks too good to be true – it probably is.”

“The personal consequences of allowing criminals to pay money through your account can be life-changing. Reject any offers of cash to let someone else use your bank account, it’s simply not worth it.”