300,000 links taken down in crackdown on investment scams with bogus celebrity endorsements


Over 300,000 malicious links advertising fake get-rich-quick schemes designed to trick people into handing their money to cyber criminals have been taken down in a crackdown by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

The scams see fraudsters attempting to lure people into making bogus investments using phoney endorsements from celebrities, such as Sir Richard Branson, suggesting they’ve made millions by buying and selling bitcoin or other cryptocurrency.

Links to the scams are promoted in fake news articles on pages designed to look like they’re being published by the real website of an actual newspaper or other legitimate publications. The articles, which are distributed by phishing emails and paid-for digital advertising, aim to trick victims into giving away their money or bank details to cyber criminals.

SEE: A winning strategy for cybersecurity (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Over the course of the last few months, the NCSC – the cybersecurity arm of GCHQ – has taken down over 300,000 malicious links to the phoney celebrity-endorsed investment schemes.

Many of the scams were taken down after being reported to the NCSC’s Suspicious Email Reporting Service, which has now received over 1.8 million reports of potentially criminal behaviour since being launched in April this year.

“These investment scams are a striking example of the kind of methods cyber criminals are now deploying to try to con people. We are exposing them today not only to raise public awareness but to show the criminals behind them that we know what they’re up to and are taking action to stop it,” said NCSC CEO Ciaran Martin, who steps down from the role at the end of this month.

“I would urge the public to continue doing what they have been so brilliantly and forward anything they think doesn’t look right to our Suspicious Email Reporting Service.”

The Financial Conduct Authority says investment scams cost the public over £197m in 2018 alone and the NCSC is working with the City of London Police to help warn the public about the dangers posed by the schemes.

“These figures provide a stark warning that people need to be wary of fake investments on online platforms. Celebrity endorsements are just one way criminals can promote bogus schemes online,” said Commander Clinton Blackburn of the City of London Police.

“Criminals will do all they can to make their scams appear legitimate. It is vital you do your research and carry out the necessary checks to ensure that an investment you are considering is legitimate,” he added.

SEE: Google: We’ll test hiding the full URL in Chrome 86 to combat phishing

The NCSC is also working with some of the famous names, that cyber criminals falsely use the identities of to promote scams, in order to help take the schemes down.

“We have dealt with hundreds of instances of fake sites and fraudsters impersonating me or my team online. We are working in partnership with organisations such as NCSC to report these sites and do all we can to get them taken down as quickly as possible,” said Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group. 

“Sadly, the scams are not going to disappear overnight, and I would urge everyone to be vigilant and always check for official website addresses and verified social media accounts,” he added. 

People who think they’ve fallen victim to a celebrity scam or any other of form of scam are urged to report it to the authorities.

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