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Brits are being warned not to fall for scams in which criminals use fake celebrity endorsements to promote investments.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said it has removed over 30,000 malicious links in just four months.
Emails and advertisements encourage people to visit these websites, which host fake news articles about “get rich quick” schemes featuring fraudulent celebrity endorsements. They are asked to click on a link to “invest”, but the money is really being sent to cyber criminals, NCSC explained.
Some of these spoof articles have contained “endorsements” from the likes of Brit singer Ed Sheeran, Virgin boss Richard Branson, and The Money Expert’s Martin Lewis.
“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 Branson.
“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.”
NCSC said it is taking “unprecedented action” to remove these scams, which are on the rise, from the internet as part of its Active Cyber Defence programme. Cyber criminal activity cost the UK £197m in 2018 alone, it added.
Members are encouraged to report anything they find dubious to NCSC’s Suspicious Email Reporting Service (SERS). Many of the scams have already been detected this way, with Brits filing over 1.8 million reports to the SWERS since its launch in April, resulting in more than 16,800 malicious links being blocked or removed from the internet.
To use the service, simply forward “suspect” emails to email@example.com, and any malicious links contain therein will be taken down or blocked, NCSC said.
Commander Clinton Blackburn, from the City of London Police, said: “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. People should not be fooled by images of luxury items such as expensive watches and cars, and posts on social media showing extravagant lifestyles, which are often used to persuade you to invest.
“To those of you who might be tempted, remember not every investment opportunity is genuine. 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.
"If you think you have been the victim of a fraud, make sure you report it to Action Fraud.”