Is that email from the NHS or a fraudster?

PHISHING Button on Computer Keyboard

Phishing emails is one of the most common practices of fraudsters - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

With a roadmap for unlocking Covid-19 restrictions now in place there is now light at the end of a very long tunnel and new hope that this summer might start to look a bit more normal.

It is a credit to our frontline NHS and police officers and staff that we have had one of the most successful vaccination programmes in the world, with 17.5m people having received the jab so far.

Unfortunately not everyone is a hero. Lockdown has seen a significant rise in attempted scams, with ActionFraud - the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime – recently reporting that an email attempting to trick people into handing over bank details was reported to it more than 1,000 times in 24 hours.

At the front of the battle to prevent these scams in Devon and Cornwall are Laura Cowie and Grahame Mace of the Devon and Cornwall Cyber Protect Unit. They have been helping people avoid what can be devastating and increasingly sophisticated attacks.

Phishing emails - correspondence requesting personal information - are one of the most common practices, and recently we have seen these purporting to come from the NHS or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, telling people they are eligible for a vaccine or a tax rebate because of coronavirus. Cyber criminals will use any opportunity to exploit their victims.

It is definitely a case of prevention being better than cure, Laura advises that if you are talking to someone online who you have not met in person as soon as they start asking for money, it’s 99.9% likely that they are trying to defraud you.

She advises pausing and reflecting on the veracity of an email or a conversation before transferring funds.

Scammers will often try to imply urgency and rush would-be victims into making a decision. Taking a moment to consider the request carefully can save a huge amount of heartbreak and money.

Many of you will have already had your vaccine. For those waiting to hear from the NHS it is worth noting that you can be contacted by the NHS, your employer, a GP surgery or pharmacy local to you, to receive it. The vaccine is free of charge and you will not be asked to make a payment. 

If you have been affected by a scam or have been sent a suspicious email it is worth understanding the role of the National Cyber Security Centre. The centre asks members of the public to forward suspicious emails or website links to report@phishing.gov.uk so they can be investigated. It has detected thousands of fraudulent websites, prevented thousands of attacks and issued dozens of alerts about new threats since it was set up last April.

If you are suffering a live cyber attack (in progress), please call ActionFraud on 0300 123 2040 immediately. More information and advice on avoiding scams is available on their website actionfraud.police.uk. Suspicious text messages should be forwarded to 7726.

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