Scammers exploited the coronavirus vaccine rollout to dupe victims into giving away personal information, spy chiefs revealed today.
Fraudsters used the unprecedented inoculation scheme to try and harvest data by luring unsuspecting Britons to hand over details with emails and text messages.
The National Cyber Security Centre – part of the Government's eavesdropping station GCHQ – took down more scams in the last year than in the previous three years combined.
Tech spooks recorded a 15-fold surge in the removal of online campaigns compared with 2019.
There was a jump in the number of phishing attacks using NHS branding to deceive victims.
Some 43 fake NHS Covid-19 apps hosted outside of official app stores were also pulled.
NCSC technical director Ian Levy said: "The big increase in Covid-19 related scams, fake vaccine shops, fake PPE shops, show – to me anyway – that criminals have no bounds on what they will abuse and the fear that they engender to try and harm and defraud people.”
Tax-gatherers HM Revenue & Customs remained the most copied brand used by fraudsters, totalling more than 4,000 campaigns, followed by the Government's gov.uk website, and TV Licensing.
Overall, more than 700,500 campaigns were taken down – accounting for 1,448,214 web addresses, the NCSC's fourth Active Cyber Defence report revealed.
Another problem highlighted were endorsement scams, which falsely claim to be supported by celebrities such as Sir Richard Branson and Martin Lewis, as well as using UK newspaper branding.
"They're really convincing things, they're really well created, so it's not surprising people fall for them," Mr Levy said.
The report comes ahead of the two-day CyberUK event starting tomorrow, with Home Secretary Priti Patel, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and GCHQ director Jeremy Fleming due to address the virtual conference.
NCSC chief executive Lindy Cameron said: "Whether it has been protecting vital research into the vaccine or helping people work from home securely, the NCSC has worked with partners to protect the digital homeland during this unprecedented period.
"I look forward to hearing from thought-leaders at CyberUK as we reflect on this period and look ahead to building a resilient and prosperous digital UK after the pandemic."