Category Archives: Scams

COVID-19 Corona Virus and NHS Test and Trace

The COVID-19 Virus

The UK’s NHS today launched its COVID-19 “Test and Trace” system in England.

I have seen no discussion of fraud, but this system is an open invitation for scammers and fraudsters.

People will apparently get unexpected phone calls from NHS “Test and Trace” telling them they have been in contact with the COVID-19 infection, and they must immediately self-isolate for 14 days. The phone call will also ask for details of who they’ve been in contact with. It seems the “Test and Trace” system will use all sorts of methods – maybe including one’s use of credit cards – to track your movements and who you may have been in contact with.


Scammers will exploit this. They have shown that they are more than willing to use fake emails (for example, pretending to be Microsoft, HMRC, the police, BT and so on) to get you to respond (or click on a link) to provide more details about yourself. They will then use these details – sometimes in very creative ways – to steal your money, get access to your emails (and thereby steal your money or get your relatives of friends to lose money) and so on.

Scammers and fraudsters are also very happy to use phone calls that start “This is Microsoft” or “This is Windows Support” or “This is BT” to involve you in a scam which will end up with you losing money.


So you can be sure scammers will soon start making phone calls that start “This is NHS Test and Trace” and end up costing you money, sometimes thousands of pounds. Banks (or credit card companies) don’t usually refund this money because “you were negligent in giving out confidential details”.

All far as I know, there is no way to check if a “Test and Trace” call is genuine. The government doesn’t seem to have thought of this. It’s not clear yet what information a genuine Test and Trace call will ask you for, or what you might believe, but it could quite feasible involve credit card details or other private information. And they might quite well say “it’s the law, you have to tell us” (which is isn’t, and you don’t).

HOWEVER, if you’re happy to tell them more-or-less public information like your credit or debit card numbers, your bank account number (it’s on every cheque you write, after all) or your email address, I wouldn’t tell them any security information. They don’t need to know any passwords, PINs, login details, “memorable data”, security answers, and so on.


This is old advice: you shouldn’t click on links in emails, trust any website (unless you know how to check), or believe any email is from who it says it is. Emails that start “Hello” or “Dear Customer” are not being sent to you personally, so your account hasn’t been suspended, you haven’t won the lottery or become eligible for a refund or compensation.

So it’s the standard advice, nothing new, but a new opportunity for fraud. Fraudsters are clever, ingenious, resourceful, and convincing. Always be on your guard. Just as you don’t cross the road without looking, don’t trust something because it’s on your commuter, found by Google or “looked trustworthy”. Be suitably suspicious!

Good Password Practice

My customers are getting a lot of scam e-mails that say, in essence:

“I an a hacker and I know your password is tulip123. I have recorded you looking at porn. If you don’t send me £1,000 in the next 24 hours, I’ll send an embarrassing video of you to all your friends and contacts”.

In my example, the person getting the e-mail really does have a password of tulip123, so it’s all a bit worrying.

The e-mail is a try-on, of course: the “hacker” doesn’t have an embarrassing video of you. But how does he (or she, but I’ll use “he” here) know your password?

Well, he doesn’t. He’s not even a hacker; he’s most likely bought a list of e-mail addresses and password from somewhere, and is e-mailing each one to try to extort money. I guess it works, or at least the perpetrators think it will, because it’s very widespread.

Note he doesn’t say what password. Is he claiming he knows my mail password, my Amazon password, my PayPal password, my computer logon password, or what?

They’d all be different, right?

You can check if any of your passwords are for sale. Just put in your email address here. (I wouldn’t normally suggest putting your email address – and especially not a password – into a web page, but this one is well-known, has been around for a long time, and seems to be reputable. But as you’ll find, in the world of computer security, trusting the things are what they seem may be unwise.)

Here’s what I got:

As you can see, I’m on Linked In – and my email address and password (my credentials) were revealed in a “breach” that Linked In suffered in 2016. (I’ve since changed them.)

If I had used my Linked In password and e-mail address for, say, my Amazon account, anyone who had my LinkedIn credentials would also be able to log into my Amazon account. That’s why it’s very unwise to re-use passwords.

But what about the passwords themselves. I wonder how easy mine might be to guess? Well password-cracking programs exist, and they are pretty good. They are cleverer than you’d think – they start with common passwords – things like secret123 and welcome123 and pa55word – before going through all the combinations.

The same website that I mentioned above can also check all the passwords that have been revealed on the “dark web” and tell you how many times a password you are considering has been used and revealed. I tried tulip123:

And Tulip123:

And tuliP123:

So, here’s my four rules for passwords:

  1. Make each one different.
  2. Make them a random set of number, digits and symbols.
  3. Make them at least 12 characters long.
  4. Write them down in at least two places, and keep the list up to date.

All this means you’ll have to use a program to generate, store and back-up your passwords for you. Using a Password Manager is the only sensible way to handle passwords. I have an article on password managers here.

Finally, consider using Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) for important passwords. The most common form of 2FA sends a code to your mobile phone every time you log in from your computer, and you have to type in this code as part of the log in process. But don’t do this for mail if you use a mail program (sometimes called a mail client), for example Microsoft Outlook. In that case, see if your mail provider support the use of an Application Password when using a mail client. Gmail and G Suite do, but BT, Yahoo, Sky, TalkTalk and so on mostly don’t.

PS: When I ask people which is their most important password, they usually answer “the bank” or similar. In fact, it’s not: for most people, their mail password is their most important password. This is because once someone knows your mail password they can sit back and watch every mail item you receive (and possible every mail item you send). They can do this from their own computer anywhere in the world – they doesn’t need access to your computer. Now consider what happens if you forget the password to (say) you Amazon account … Amazon sends a link to your e-mail which will allow you to re-set your Amazon password. So anyone who knows your email password can probably change any other password to one they know.

Additionally, If someone else can read all your e-mails, consider what happens if you’re buying a house, say. The day before you are due to send your solicitor the deposit, you get an email from him/her (the solicitor, as you think) mentioning they have changed their bank, and would you send the money to their new account, as follows. It looks genuine, is signed in the normal way and with the right name, and has all the right logos, so you believe it … and lose you money. The person with your mail password saw you were about to send a large amount of money (by reading your email) and was able to see exactly how he or she had to make the fake e-mail look. He had a newly set-up account waiting (scammers often trick someone else into letting them use their account), you transferred the money to it, he transferred the money into Bitcoin and closed the account. No trace.

There are plenty of well-documented examples of this. Google found me these three, but there are plenty of others. Protect that email password!

How to avoid solicitor conveyancing email scam that costs house buyers

Property sellers warned not to email solicitors: ‘We lost £204,000’

More Reading


Password Cracking Evolution
Top Ten Password Cracking Techniques used by Hackers
Testing a Password Cracker

Password Strength Testers

These sites say they don’t store your passwords, or even send them over the Internet, but I haven’t checked them.

How do I know if an email is genuine?

Sooner or later you’ll get an email telling you you’ve won the lottery, ordered something you don’t remember ordering, missed a delivery, are due a tax refund, or that you need to “verify your account”. How do you know if you can trust these emails or not?

The first thing to know is that you can’t trust who the email says it’s from. Here’s a message from my spam folder:

It says it’s from someone called “Track My PPI”, whose email address is Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but I can’t tell from the email address that is shown.  This is no more reliable than the address written at the top of a paper letter – it’s created by the sender. If they are dishonest, it may well be a lie. Just because it’s “the computer” doesn’t make it true. Continue reading How do I know if an email is genuine?

How do I know if a website is genuine?

Click to enlarge

Sooner or later everyone gets an email saying you have to “verify your account” and warning of the dire consequences if you don’t. These are always a scam.  No-one genuine will ever ask you to verify (or “re-verify”) your account. Sometimes you might have to verify your email address (by click on a link in the email) but you’d never have to verify your account. Here’s a screenshot (left) of a typical “verification” page. It says it’s from Apple, but it’s not.

You’d get to this site by clicking on a link in an email that “Apple” sent you. We’ll look at that in a later post, but for the minute let’s look at the web page. Continue reading How do I know if a website is genuine?

Am I about to download a virus? (Part 1)

There are lots of good, useful things you can download from the Internet for free. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of things that will harm your PC, pop-up fake warnings, mess with your search results, and so on.

How do you tell a good download from a bad one?

The same applies to e-mail attachments – how do you tell a safe attachment from a dangerous one? Continue reading Am I about to download a virus? (Part 1)

How do people get their PC infected with viruses?

Usually, bad things on your PC these days aren’t technically viruses, they are trojan horses, worms, adware, key loggers, search hijackers and so on. Generically we call bad things that you don’t want on your PC “malware“.

Get one item of malware, and it will install others. Look at the dates.
Get one item of malware, and it will install others. Look at the dates.

Most infected users have in fact downloaded the malware themselves, and clicked “OK” on lots of boxes in the process. They do this because the malware installer claims to be something useful (it’s lying). Often people download things that claims to be a Security Scanner, a Registry Cleaner, a Speed Maximiser, a PC Tune-up Manager, a Driver Updater, or a utility that claims to Fix Unreadable Files or Fix Download Problem (or they leave a box ticked that offers a “free download” of something apparently useful. Virtually all of these fake products are downloaded from professional-looking and convincing sites … judging a site by how professional it looks is always unwise. Malware distributors make enough money to be able to afford excellent websites! (Even if these things did what they claimed and didn’t also install malware, they would be pointless. They sound technical and important, but they’re not. For 99 percent of users, registries don’t need cleaning, drivers don’t need updating, and so on.

Too good to be true?
Too good to be true?

If your PC is slow, a few simple things you can do yourself will be much more effective that any spurious “PC Tune Up” program.

Some good advice from reputable sources:
The Guardian newspaper 1
The Guardian newspaper 2

The Telegrapgh newspaper
WikiHow website

Another thing to watch out for is where you download legitimate software from. The thing you want (iTunes, VLC, Microsoft Security Essentials, Flash Player) may be legitimate and useful, but are you getting it from the right place? Getting it from the wrong place may mean you download something undesirable as well. Do your research before you download.

iTunes is made by Apple, and can be downloaded (free) from the Apple website. This isn't the Apple website!
iTunes is made by Apple, and can be downloaded (free) from the Apple website. This isn’t the Apple website!

And finally, watch out for adverts that look like warnings, and unusual search engines that may look like Google. Don’t trust what they are telling you, especially if they want you to download something.

That's an advert, not a warning or error message. And the search site isn't Google.
That’s an advert, not a warning or error message. And the search site isn’t Google.

Good luck out there – keep your wits about you!