CYBER SCAMS ON THE RISE! – by SIGNUM SERVICES

Michael Carroll and David Thompson of Signum Services, the in-house investigative arm of UK P&I Club issues this reminder to colleagues, Members and their staff to be extra vigilant, alert and cautious during this Covid-19 period when confinement orders in place in many countries are requiring staff to work from home from their personal laptops and computers. 

While many people are feeling fearful, anxious and uncertain about the future at this time, unscrupulous criminals are exploiting the situation to trick people into parting with their money. A record level of on-line frauds and scams are being perpetrated and reported. While these criminals are mainly targeting the vulnerable and the elderly, the sophistication of some of these scams - and the sheer number of them - mean that that each and every one of us is a potential victim. At the time of writing, the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) at the City of London Police have received well over 500 reports of such frauds and scams with losses in the region of £1.6m.

Scamming Methods - Phishing and Social Engineering emails, phone calls

The Police have seen an increase of thousands of COVID-19 themed phishing attempts – the majority of which are via emails, although they may also be received via TEXT messages. These communications try to trick the recipients into opening malicious attachments which could allow the fraudsters to steal the recipient’s personal information, email logins, passwords, and banking details. Some fraudsters are making cold calls offering goods and services that do not subsequently materialise.  

Below is a selection of the recent scams we are seeing in the UK but undoubtedly, similar scams are also being perpetrated elsewhere. We should be aware of these scams to avoid falling victim to them but the types of scams will likely increase as the current public health crisis continues:  

  • Fraudsters purporting to be from a research group that mimic the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) offering to provide updates on active Covid-19 cases in the recipients’ areas. To access the information the recipient needs to either click on a link which redirects them to a credential-stealing page, or make a donation of support in the form of a payment into a Bitcoin account.
  • Fraudsters providing articles about the virus outbreak with a link to a fake company website. Recipients are encouraged to click on the website to subscribe to a daily newsletter for further updates. 
  • Fraudsters sending investment scheme and trading advice encouraging recipients to take advantage of the COVID-19 economic downturn. 
  • Fraudsters purporting to be from HMRC offering a tax refund and directing recipients to a fake website where their personal and financial details will be stolen. The emails often display the HMRC logo making the email look reasonably genuine and convincing. 
  • Emails from fraudsters purporting to be lenders offering quick time loans to help tide the recipients over during these financially difficult times. An upfront fee payment is required.
  • Fraudsters have also been capitalising on the fact that bank branches are closed by fraudulently encouraging recipients to switch accounts online. In the course of doing so, their personal details are stolen.
  • Shopping scams abound where fraudsters are advertising protective face masks, hand sanitisers and related products which, once paid for, never arrive; 
  • Fraudsters capitalising on frustrations of working from home with slow network connections and IT problems, by making cold calls or sending unsolicited emails offering help. 
  • Official looking TEXT messages from the government notifying recipients that they have been fined £250 for leaving their home more than once during the lockdown. 
  • Fraudulent job offers - Fraudsters are exploiting the current economic downturn by contacting individuals who are out of work and offering them positions as key workers. A payment of an advance fee for vetting or background checks is required.
  • Emails or phonecalls from fraudsters impersonating senior decision makers in the recipients’ companies, or organisations to which the recipients make regular payments - with seemingly valid reasons for why they cannot be contacted - requesting changes to a direct debit, standing order or bank transfer mandate. The change will divert funds to their own bank accounts.

STOP,  TAKE FIVE and CHECK!


It is hard to predict the mind of the cunning criminals but one thing is for certain; they are working 24/7 and nearly always from home, thinking of new and different ways in which to steal our hard earned cash and to deceive businesses out of very large sums of money. 

All employees, especially those in the payments  and accounts departments must be made aware of the need to exercise caution, to be alert and to double check any changes to existing payment instructions. 

Possibly the easiest way to do this is to call the customer, supplier, owner, charterer or Member directly to verify that there is in fact a change to their payment instructions, and the reason for the change. 

If you are targeted by one of these criminals while at home, with no immediate access to a work colleague or supervisor, or a more experienced family member, for assistance, it may be difficult to take a decision on whether a request you have just received is a genuine request.  

In such a situation, it is always better to err on the side of caution. Seek advice by calling up a colleague or your supervisor. Do not feel under any pressure to complete the transaction. Rushing through a fraudulent request is many times worse than being late in complying with a genuine payment request.

So, if you have any doubt or suspicions regarding a message or a payment request;

  • STOP WHATEVER IT IS YOU ARE DOING.
  • TAKE FIVE MINUTES TO REVIEW THE REQUEST.
  • CHECK WITH A COLLEAGUE OR A SUPERVISOR. 

Always remember:

  • That communications from fraudsters often contain numerous grammatical, punctuation and spelling mistakes;  
  • To double check that emails are from who you believe they are from and that you are replying to the correct email address before you do so;
  • To be suspicious of any request to act urgently, particularly if you are being asked to bypass normal procedures; and
  • Not to respond to any unexpected messages that ask for your personal or financial details, and do not click on any links or attachments in unsolicited texts or emails.

Stay safe!

Signum Services may be contacted for further advice if required:  Michael Carroll (Chief Investigator)  michael.carroll@thomasmiller.com.

Footnotes:

Members may also find the following article recently published by the TT Club of interest: https://www.ttclub.com/loss-prevention/tt-talk/tt-talk-covid-19-heightened-risk-of-fraud-151940/ .

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