Produced in association with UK Government
SCAMMERS ARE TARGETING VULNERABLE PEOPLE, WARN EXPERTS
A DEADLY virus is not the only one spreading through humans in these past few months.
Just as coronavirus has infected thousands of people across countries, so too has misinformation relating to Covid-19 spread, from unfounded claims of cures to frauds preying on vulnerable people.
Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind, told Eastern Eye: “Social media could help you stay in touch with people, but might also make you feel anxious including if people are sharing news stories or posting about their worries.
“Feeling well-informed can help us cope with uncertainty. But make sure that you’re turning to reliable sources of news that reflect facts, not rumours and speculation.
“If you’re finding the news difficult to cope with, think about taking a break or only checking at certain points of the day, for a limited time. You might decide to view particular groups or pages but not scroll through timelines or newsfeeds.”
Last month, masts in several parts of Britain were torched after a conspiracy theory linked 5G masts to the spread of the coronavirus.
Broadcaster Eamonn Holmes, who initially refused to dismiss them out of hand, said on ITV’s This Morning show after hearing about the 5G hysteria, “It’s very easy to say it is not true because it suits the state’s narrative. What I don’t accept is mainstream media immediately slapping that down as not true when they don’t know it’s not true.”
However, Ofcom, the media regulator, criticised the ITV presenter over his “ill-judged” comments, saying they “risked undermining viewers’ trust in advice from public authorities and scientific evidence”.
Ofcom added that it had issued guidance to ITV and its presenters.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), a part of GCHQ, shared some examples of scam sites it has removed thanks to a new “Suspicious Email Reporting Service”. Among online scams that were blocked were web pages purporting to sell coronavirus-linked bogus products such as testing kits, face masks and even vaccines.
The NCSC noted a rise in cyber crime exploiting the coronavirus pandemic last month.
Commander Karen Baxter, City of London Police, national lead force for fraud, said: “While the world is coming together to combat this global health crisis, criminals are intent on exploiting our unease, anxiety and vulnerabilities in these unprecedented times.”
Will Moy, the chief executive of independent fact-checking charity Full Fact, said: “Bad information ruins lives. We’ve seen firsthand how it can dissuade people from engaging in democracy, and risk their finances, health or personal safety. The outbreak of the new coronavirus has brought this into starker focus in recent months.
“In the UK, we have seen misinformation take hold in the form of fake cures, spurious claims, conspiracy theories and financial scams.”
Falsehoods concerning the risks of vaccines and a conspiracy theory linking coronavirus to 5G telecom networks were two common types of misinformation, Full Fact said.
It added that an online form it had launched to let users send in their questions about the Covid-19 epidemic had seen more than 2,000 responses in just over three weeks.
Tech firms have acted to curb misinformation related to the virus. Earlier in April, Facebook-owned WhatsApp tightened message-forwarding limits in a bid to limit messages touting bogus medical advice.
Facebook said last month it would send tailor-made warnings to users highlighting facts about the coronavirus pandemic, after the world’s leading social media platform was accused of tolerating the spread of outlandish conspiracy theories.
The US giant has published fact-checking articles about the global outbreak through its partnerships with some media organisations.
“We will also soon begin showing messages in News Feed to people who previously engaged with harmful misinformation related to Covid-19 that we’ve since removed, connecting them with accurate information,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said.
The messages will pop up in the relevant language for users who have previously “liked”, shared or commented on virus disinformation, and point them to myth-busting facts compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Leveraging the US company’s global reach, the WHO launched a chatbot on Facebook Messenger, to convey up-to-date information about Covid-19.
Facebook placed warnings on about 40 million posts related to the virus in March alone, following reviews of the posts by independent fact-checkers.
“When people saw those warning labels, 95 per cent of the time they did not go on to view the original content,” Zuckerberg said.
Another programme called Get The Facts highlights coronavirus articles on Facebook written by fact-checking partners.
Meanwhile, several organisations have taken action to prevent people from falling victim to scammers.
Louise Baxter, head of the National Trading Standards Scams Team, said: “As people stay indoors to prevent the spread of Covid-19, criminals are preying on people in vulnerable situations who are isolated and living alone.
“There’s never been a more important time for neighbours to look out for each other – particularly as we self-isolate – which is why we’re encouraging communities to prevent scams in their local area by using the free Friends Against Scams resources.
“Our online courses will help you spot a potential scam, identify people at risk and help you protect local residents from falling victims to scams.
“We’re urging communities to protect each other from scams and encourage people to share the latest advice with families, friends and neighbours.” See https://www.
Last month, British and US cybersecurity agencies warned that foreign government-backed hacking groups were using coronavirus themes to ply their way into computers and networks.
The groups sent phishing emails and setting up websites with Covid-19 virus subjects, aiming to lure users to click on links that would expose their computers to penetration or introduce malware.
Some use email and SMS subject lines like “2020 coronavirus updates” or “coronavirus outbreak in your city (Emergency)”, while others might offer an attached file with purported updates on national policies to deal with the pandemic, said an alert jointly issued by Britain’s national Cyber Security Center and the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency.
“Cybercriminals are using the pandemic for commercial gain, deploying a variety of ransomware and other malware,” the two cybersecurity agencies said.
They gave examples of an SMS sent to phones announcing coronavirus payments to residents and asking them to click on a link that is then used to harvest personal and banking information.
A number of phishing emails in multiple languages pretends to come from the WHO.
One fake website pretends to be an official British government page for applying for Covid-19 relief to steal personal and financial account data.
In addition, the two cybersecurity groups said hackers are trying to take advantage of the kinds of networking services millions of people are using to work from home.
They warned of the popular use of VPN tools that appear to offer security but in fact are commonly exploited by hackers, including products from Citrix, Pulse Secure, Fortinet and Palo Alto.
Protect yourself from cyber fraud
THE UK government has a checklist to help people protect themselves from cyber fraud:
- Take a moment before you part with your money or personal information. It sounds simple, but this alone could end up preventing fraud from taking place
- Ensure that you are using the latest software, apps and operating systems on your mobile phones, tablets and laptops and update them regularly.
- And if you get an unexpected or suspicious email or text message, do not click on the link or attachment.
- Don’t be afraid to challenge things like this. It’s okay to refuse or ignore requests for your money or details if you are suspicious. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
- Remember – the police and banks will never ask you to withdraw money or transfer it to a different account. Neither will they ask you to reveal your full banking password or Pin.
- You can check that requests are genuine by using a known number or email address to contact organisations directly.
And if you are worried you have fallen victim to a scam, then contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud.
You can report any suspicious texts by forwarding the original message to 7726, which spells SPAM on your keypad.
Finally, has the content come from a trusted official source? When considering health advice, check the following verified websites: the NHS, Public Health England, GOV.UK
Use the SHARE checklist
BEFORE you like, comment or share online, use the SHARE checklist to make sure you’re not contributing to the spread of harmful content about coronavirus.
Rely on official sources for medical and safety information. Check the facts about coronavirus on the NHS website and GOV.UK.
Headlines don’t always tell the full story. Always read to the end before you share articles about coronavirus.
Analyse the facts. If something sounds unbelievable, it very well might be. Independent fact-checking services are correcting false information about coronavirus every day.
Watch out for misleading pictures and videos in stories about coronavirus. They might be edited or show an unrelated place or event. Check to see who else is using the photo.
Look out for mistakes. Typos and other grammar errors might mean the information is false. Official guidance about coronavirus will always have been carefully checked.