Consumers are warned to be on the look-out for fake news stories promoting investment advice from prominent celebrity figures.
Over the last four months, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said it has taken down more than 300,000 malicious URLs linking to fraudulent investment schemes.
Many of the schemes are promoted through ads and emails featuring fake endorsements by public figures such as Sir Richard Branson, Martin Lewis and, most recently, singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran.
In a statement published today (14th August), the cybersecurity centre is advising the public to remain vigilant online and to report any potentially fraudulent links or advertisements.
NCSC chief executive, Ciaran Martin, commented: “These investment scams are a striking example of the kind of methods cybercriminals 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.”
The fake investment schemes currently in the NCSC crosshairs entice consumers through a number of methods.
Emails and paid-for digital advertisements often look to lure people to visit hoax websites which offer details about “get rich quick” schemes. Users are then urged to follow a link to “invest”, however, this money is actually being sent to cybercriminals.
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Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson is one of the celebrities commonly impersonated or misquoted through the scam investment schemes.
In response to the growing problem, he urged the public to always verify the websites they visit and consider that they may be at risk of scams.
He said: “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.
“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.”
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Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com recently sued Facebook over the issue of fake investment schemes.
Lewis took legal action against the social media giant after a slew of fake ads using his brand and image were circulated on the platform. In his libel suit, Lewis claimed that Facebook was slow to respond despite being made aware of the situation and that many of those who trusted his brand had mistakenly handed over thousands of pounds.
The NCSC said it is taking “unprecedented action” to remove the investment scams from the internet as part of its ongoing Active Cyber Defence initiative.
Some of the scams have also been detected following reports to the NCSC’s Suspicious Email Reporting Service (SERS). So far, the service has received over 1.8 million reports from the public since its launch in April.
This has led to more than 16,800 malicious URLs being blocked or taken down. The NCSC said that “more than half” of the fraudulent URLs related to cryptocurrency investment scams.