People have been warned to be wary of online scams which use fake celebrity investment endorsements, after it removed several hundred thousand links to such schemes.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said it had taken down more than 300,000 malicious links tied to fraudulent schemes in four months.

It said more of the investment scams were using mocked-up news articles featuring celebrities, including Sir Richard Branson, Ed Sheeran and consumer champion Martin Lewis, and urged people to be vigilant.

The NCSC has encouraged the public to report anything which “doesn’t look right”.

The centre’s chief executive Ciaran Martin said: “These investment scams are a striking example of the kind of methods cybercriminals are now deploying to try to con people.

“We are exposing them today not only to raise public awareness but to show the criminals behind them that we know what they’re up to and are taking action to stop it.

Virgin owner Richard Branson
Virgin owner Richard Branson

“I would urge the public to continue doing what they have been so brilliantly and forward anything they think doesn’t look right to our suspicious email reporting service.”

That email reporting service, which was unveiled earlier this year, has so far received more than 1.8 million reports, which has resulted in over 16,800 malicious sites being blocked or taken down.

The public can forward suspected scam emails and other content to [email protected]

Virgin Group founder Sir Richard, who has been impersonated in some of the scams highlighted by the NCSC, said: “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.

“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.”