Coronavirus: Now COVID-19 phishing scammers face 'rapid-response' crackdown

'Don't feed the beast' says government as it aims to clamp down on criminals, fraudsters - and nation-states - exploiting the pandemic to spread false narratives.
Written by Danny Palmer, Senior Writer

Downing Street is working with social-media companies to counter fake news and misinformation on coronavirus, as well as take down fraud and phishing campaigns looking to exploit the outbreak.

The misinformation 'rapid-response unit' – based across the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Cabinet Office and Number 10 – looks to take down false narratives around coronavirus cures, as well as online scams looking to take advantage of people looking for information on COVID-19.

Working alongside disinformation specialists from academia, the unit is looking to combat fake news with direct rebuttals to posts on social media and working with the social networks to remove harmful or misleading content.

The government says it's currently dealing with up to 70 incidents a week, often based around false stories and misleading claims on coronavirus.

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"Holding your breath for ten seconds is not a test for coronavirus and gargling water for 15 seconds is not a cure – this is the kind of false advice we have seen coming from sources claiming to be medical experts," said Penny Mordaunt, Paymaster General.

"That is why government communicators are working in tandem with health bodies to promote official medical advice, rebut false narratives and clamp down on criminals seeking to exploit public concern during this pandemic."

The government also says it will be pushing social-media companies for further action to prevent the spread of falsehoods and rumours around coronavirus.

Alongside efforts to warn the general public about coronavirus misinformation and fraud, the government is also stepping up efforts to work with international partners to counter the efforts of what's described as "certain states" that "routinely use disinformation as a policy tool".

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In addition to misinformation campaigns, coronavirus has also resulted in cyber criminals and hackers trying to take advantage of the pandemic for their own malicious ends by using the issue as a lure for phishing campaigns and other cyberattacks, as detailed by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

Cyber criminals are also attempting to exploit the rise in remote working caused by lockdowns and social distancing to conduct malicious campaigns.


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