Lancashire Police advise to beware of phishing emails during Covid-19 pandemic

There’s a variety of emails at the moment offering vaccines, home testing kits, facemasks, hand sanitiser, tax refunds and other coronavirus-related subjects.

Monday, 27th April 2020, 12:46 pm
Updated Monday, 27th April 2020, 12:48 pm

They’re probably fraudulent, which means you might buy something that doesn’t exist, get tricked into giving away your confidential details to fraudsters or download malware on to your computer or other device.

Do you know how to spot a phishing email?

Email has always been the most commonplace method used by online fraudsters to trick innocent people out of their money, their identity, or both.

Do you feel comfortable spotting an email phishing scam?

And it still is, not least during the current coronavirus pandemic.

Lancashire Police said: "Our experts have compiled some simple tips to help you protect yourself from falling for fraudulent emails."

"These tips are available at www.getsafeonline.org/safeemail."

Get Safe Online CEO Tony Neate said: "Whenever there’s a crisis, you can be certain that there will be a rash of scams exploiting the situation. Sadly, coronavirus is no exception.

"At Get Safe Online, we've heard about a number of scams, from fake news to people offering vaccines. Even with my long career in cybersecurity, it never fails to amaze me how low some people will sink to exploit innocent people's uncertainty and misery."

In common with most other crisis situations, criminals are using emails, text messages, social media posts, online advertisements and phone calls to defraud their unsuspecting victims.

The scams Get Safe Online have heard about to date include:

- email entitled “You are infected”, in which you are asked to download an Excel attachment and proceed to the nearest emergency health clinic for testing. The Excel document is infected with malware.

- A huge increase in the number of blackmail emails claming that the sender has detected you viewing porn, and demanding a ransom to avoid this being revealed to youir contacts. These sometimes quote a password you do or have used, but you should not respond or pay, as they have nothing on you.

- emails specifically targeting the elderly, selling pre-paid funerals and Power of Attorney services

- emails purporting to be from a major retailer (including Tesco and Argos) offering free vouchers to help support people during the outbreak. The emails feature a fraudulent link.

- emails offering Coronavirus insurance cover, or thanking you for purchasing insurance and providing a link to your 'documents'. You cannot buy insurance against Coronavirus.

- emails, social media posts and texts advertising Coronavirus testing kits for home use and for use by businesses to test their workforce. These do NOT exist.

- emails telling you that you have been fined for not observing lockdown rules

- emails and other messages claiming to be from the Department of Education, offering free school meals whilst schools are closed, and requesting bank details

- Fake advertisements for protective masks

- Fake advertisements for sanitising gel

- Fake advertisements for vaccines (these do not currently exist)

- Someone selling Coronavirus 'cure' online that actually contained harmful chemicals

- Links to fake / sensational news, photos and video and unorthodox ways to gain protection, in reality designed purely to spread panic, gain clicks and sell newspapers.

- Appeals from fake charities (either with made-up names, or fraudsters impersonating real charities) for donations

- Fake text messages offering NHS and other frontline employees tax refunds from HMRC to say 'thank you' for their efforts

- Fake emails, texts or posts offering Coronavirus diagnoses

- Online maps of Coronavirus geographical hotspots, which infect your device with malware

- Phone calls and emails offering high return, low risk investments

- Phone calls and emails urging you to take money out of your pension pot, or transfer your entire savings to a higher return, lower risk option

In the case of the fake advertisements, hopeful customers make payments for the items, often by bank transfer, never to see the products they have ordered, nor their money, ever again. The links and email attachments generally lead to fraudulent websites which request your confidential details, or malware infections on the computer or other device you use to view them.

Tony Neate said: "It's a double-whammy: most of us are understandably concerned or at least uncertain about what's going to happen in the short to medium term. This means that we might tend to drop our guard, and exercise less caution than usual when carrying out everyday tasks online."

The advice is:

- Do not get tempted into ordering Coronavirus-related products online, especially if it calls for payment by any means except credit card (which normally affords additional protection).

- Do not believe in everything you read, but instead get your up-to-date Coronavirus advice from official sources such as:

- HM Government: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public

- NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

- Check the authenticity of charity appeals

- Be wary of approaches from supposed travel agents, tour operators, airlines, cruise companies, insurance companies or compensation firms promising to deal with refunds on travel, accommodation and event entry. If in doubt, call companies you have been dealing with, on the phone number you know to be correct.

Visit www.getsafeonline.org/safeemail for more information.