10:16 GMT23 September 2020
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    Illegal ventures by online fraudsters are believed to have cost the British public around £200 million in 2018 alone, as the criminals go to great lengths to lure gullible citizens to their phishing websites.

    UK cybersecurity pros have blocked or outright removed hundreds of thousands of "get-rich-quick" sites that boast of bogus endorsements from celebrities like billionaire investor Sir Richard Branson and singer Ed Sheeran, The Times reported.

    The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which is part of GCHQ, combed through and finally took down over 300,000 malicious links to bogus schemes in four months, with the agency warning the public to be wary of them.

    Emails and paid-for digital ads lure users into clicking on hyperlinks to hoax websites featuring fake "get-rich-quick" offers, the specialists explained. In particular, netizens are encouraged to click a link to invest or donate, but the money automatically goes to cybercriminals.

    One of the instruments the scams have been widely exploiting is presenting the targeted victims of the schemes with mocked-up news articles featuring celebrities - with Martin Lewis, the consumer champion, and Akshay Ruparelia, the self-made multimillionaire and entrepreneur, among them.

    "These scams are a striking example of the kind of methods cybercriminals are deploying", said Ciaran Martin, the NCSC's chief executive officer, adding their goal is "to raise public awareness [and] 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 doing so brilliantly and forward anything they think doesn't look right to our suspicious email reporting service", Martin suggested.

    People sit at computers in the 24 hour Operations Room inside GCHQ, Cheltenham in Cheltenham, November 17, 2015.
    © REUTERS / Ben Birchall
    People sit at computers in the 24 hour Operations Room inside GCHQ, Cheltenham in Cheltenham, November 17, 2015.

    The NCSC's email reporting service has so far received more than 1.8 million reports in the past few months, resulting in 16,800 phishing sites being blocked or taken down, with the the fraudsters' malicious activities having already cost the British public over £197 million in 2018 alone.

    "These figures provide a stark warning that people need to be wary of fake investments on online platforms", urged Clinton Blackburn, from the City of London Police, cited by The Times.

    "Criminals will do all they can to make their scams appear legitimate. It is vital [people] do research and carry out the necessary checks to ensure that an investment is legitimate", the officer insisted, arguing the public should take action not to be fooled by pictures of luxury goods, etc. promoted by celebrities.

    "Celebrity endorsements are just one way criminals can promote bogus schemes", Blackburn warned.

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    UK, cyber security, illegal schemes, spy, GCHQ
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