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Case Studies

Investment scams with celebs

Emails and paid-for digital advertisements entice people to visit hoax websites which contain information about fake “get rich quick” schemes. They are then encouraged to click a link to invest, but the money is actually being sent to cyber criminals. Fake celebrity-endorsed investment schemes feature the famous such as Virgin Group entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, and money advice broadcaster Martin Lewis, typically in mocked-up online news articles. So says the UK official National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) which reports that it has taken down over 300,000 malicious URLs in the last four months.

What they say

NCSC Chief Executive Officer Ciaran Martin said: “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.

“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.”

Sir Richard Branson said: “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.

“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.”

The NCSC’s Suspicious Email Reporting Service (SERS) has received over 1.8 million reports from the public since its launch in April – resulting in more than 16,800 malicious URLs being blocked or taken down. More than half of these URLs related to cryptocurrency investment scams. SERS is the first service of its kind; people simply forward suspect emails to and if they are found to link to malicious content, it will be taken down or blocked.

What to do

If you think you have been the victim of a fraud, you should report it to Action Fraud. Those who do fall victim to online fraud should contact their bank; and report it as a crime to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 (for England, Wales and Northern Ireland). Its contact centre however has been providing a ‘reduce service’ since lockdown in March. If you are based in Scotland, you can report to Police Scotland (who have given up use of Action Fraud) by calling 101.

For official guidance on protecting yourself online, visit Cyber Aware. Scam online adverts can be reported to the regulator the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) by filling out a form.


Jeremy Hendy, CEO at threat intelligence platform Skurio said: “Consumer facing businesses have a duty to understand if their customers are being targeted by typo squatters by email or by fake posts. There are steps any company can take to understand if their brand is being impersonated. Checking their domain for similar alternatives is a first step and there are free services which can help. If a fraudulent site is found or suspected, getting expert help to investigate is important. Spoof domains can offer fake goods, skim valuable customer data, and can also serve up malware so checking potential typo squatting sites can be risky. Companies should also monitor for sale of fake or stolen goods on legitimate commerce sites and provide educational information on ‘how to spot’ a fake item or reseller. A third step is for businesses to register similar domains to their own making them unavailable to fraudsters. Cyber security experts can help by offering monitoring services for counterfeit goods, typo squatting and takedown services so getting an expert to help can speed up the process dramatically.

“We believe the industry must do more to prevent these sites being set up in the first place, however. Registration and hosting businesses should verify identities of individuals setting up sites and require them to use traceable payment methods as a minimum.”


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