Beware Coronavirus phishing attacks: Stop, Think and Be Safe

One group who are clearly enjoying the Coronavirus pandemic are cyber criminals. It’s proved yet another valuable opportunity for them to play on our fears, doubts and vulnerabilities through simple phishing scams. Yet, like regularly washing our hands to avoid getting sick, we can take some simple measures to stay vigilant and safe from attack.

In the UK alone victims have reported losses totalling over £800,000 since February according to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. These are only reported cases! Ten of the twenty-one scams identified that month involved desperate buyers of face masks, with one person paying £15,000 for masks that were never delivered. As the Coronavirus pandemic intensifies so it is highly likely that the volume of these sort of attacks will also rise.

We need to stay vigilant. Yet as we all take steps and seek advice to stay safe from the Coronavirus, we are increasingly open to attack…and to losing our hard-earned money. We all need to beware of the rumours, misinformation, hoaxes, and snake oil cures that the Coronavirus has spawned. This advice applies to organisations as well as individuals – cyber threat investigators have for example identified targeted attacks on the global shipping industry and those industries susceptible to shipping disruptions including manufacturing, industrial, pharmaceutical and transportation.

Paul Chichester, Director of Operations at the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), has said:

“We know that cyber criminals are opportunistic and will look to exploit people’s fears. Our advice to the public is to follow simple guidance, which includes how to spot suspect emails. If someone does fall victim to a phishing attempt, they should look to report this to Action Fraud as soon as possible.”

Here are some simple clues to spotting coronavirus phishing emails:

  • Many will have poor grammar, punctuation and spelling;
  • If the email refers to you as a 'valued customer', or 'friend', or 'colleague' this suggests the sender does not know you and that it might be suspicious;
  • Does the email suggest that you need to act urgently? As the NCSC says - be suspicious of phrases like: “send these details within 24 hours” or “you have been a victim of crime, click here immediately”.
  • Check the senders name – does it sound legitimate or are they trying to mimic someone you know;
  • If the email is offering something that sounds too good to be true then it probably is;
  • Be careful not to provide personal information on what you believe are trusted websites. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already highlighted scams from people disguising themselves as the WHO. If you are contacted by a person or organisation that appears to be from WHO or other trusted website, verify their authenticity before responding. The WHO have stressed they will:
    • Never ask for your username or password to access safety information;
    • Never email attachments you didn’t ask for;
    • Never ask you to visit a link outside of
    • Never charge money to apply for a job, register for a conference or reserve a hotel;
    • Never offer prizes, grants, certificates or funding through email.

For you as an individual or consumer the above advice can go a long way to helping you secure yourself online. If you do spot a suspicious email, flag it as Spam/Junk or Suspicious in your email inbox. This will take it out of your inbox and tell your email provider you've identified it as potentially unsafe. You can also report suspicious emails, phone calls or SMS messages to Action Fraud at

Within your organisation if you spot a suspicious email you should report it to your manager or IT or Security team. This is vital in quickly stopping others doing the same thing and advising everyone what to look out for. We all must have the insight to know what to do next and the confidence to tell others quickly to minimise the threat your organisation might face.

Remember: Stop, Think and Be Safe before you Click

nick 200x200Nick Wilding

General Manager, Cyber Resilience, AXELOS and Head of RESILIA Frontline
90% of successful cyber-attacks succeed because of our human error. RESILIA Frontline is GCHQ certified online cyber awareness training for all employees. It’s easy to use and designed to help you quickly provide the simple, practical advice to all your employees to help them your most valuable and sensitive information. RESILIA is part of AXELOS Global Best Practice, a joint venture between UK Government and Capita plc.