Crooks Target Quarter of All U.K. Surfers in Security Scams

CYBERSPACE—A new report issued today by says that organized criminal gangs in the United Kingdom have been targeting surfers with bogus offers to help protect them against malicious software. According to the report, 24 percent of all U.K. adult web users have been “approached” with offers to provide patches for their virus-infected computers. Not surprisingly, instead of receiving a fix the poor saps who fall for the scam wind up with truly infected computers and credit card information in the wrong hands.

“Organized criminal gangs are exploiting security-conscious internet users by tricking them into downloading and paying for anti-virus (AV) protection which is actually malicious software—known as ‘scareware’—in disguise,” GetSafeOnline said a press announcement issued today. “Often operating on a commercial scale, these gangs target victims through cold calls and by deceiving legitimate webmasters into advertising phony software for a ‘pay per download.’”

The bad guys tend to pose as staff from the help desk of known IT companies, says the report. If the fish takes the bait, the cost to fix the computer generally runs around £30 ($50) for a patch that can be quickly downloaded.

“The ultimate goal is to obtain credit card information or secure remote control of the victim’s computer for other illegal activity, such as identity fraud or to launch phishing attacks that are then untraceable,” the report said.

According to Baroness Neville-Jones, Minister of State for Security, "Given that our latest research indicates 80 percent of UK internet users have never heard of these ‘IT helpdesk’ scams, yet almost a quarter have been approached by them, it is vital that we make people aware of this threat.  While it’s encouraging to see that UK web users are today more security-aware, criminals will always try to be ahead of the game and will use increasingly sophisticated methods to take advantage where they can.”

The report coincides with GetSafeOnline week in the U.K. and the Get Safe Online Summit, which began today in central London and runs through Thursday.