Criminals are sending out emails offering people the chance to view their gas bills online. Once people download what they think is the invoice their computer is infected with a virus which locks the computer, allowing it to only access an online payment page where people are told their computer will remain frozen unless they pay to have the virus removed.
Action Fraud, which co-ordinates law enforcement efforts to tackle fraud and cyber crime across the country says it has received hundreds of reports of this particular swindle.
People who receive this email should delete it straight away without downloading any file it contains.
British Gas say that their emails will always be personalized and will quote individual account numbers. It will only ever provide links back to the britishgas.co.uk website.
The council's spokesman on community safety Cllr Jonathan Cook said: “These emails are a complete and utter con. People should be very wary of them and never download anything if they are not 100 per cent sure it’s genuine.”
Having up-to-date virus protection for your device is absolutely essential but it will not always prevent your computer, laptop or tablet from becoming infected.
To minimise the risk, Action Fraud recommends the following:
- Make sure your internet browser and any plug-ins (eg Flash, Java, Silverlight) are up-to-date.
- Don’t click on links or open attachments from unknown email addresses. Remember that fraudsters can ‘spoof’ an email address to make it look like one used by someone you trust. If you are unsure, check the email header to identify the true source of any such link or attachment.
- If you want to view your bill online do it directly via the British Gas website.
- Create regular backups of your important files to an external hard drive, memory stick or online storage provider. It’s important that the device you back up to isn’t left connected to your computer as any malware infection could spread to that too.
Anyone affected by this, or any other scam, should report it to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040, or by visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk
They can also report it to the Met Police’s 'Fraud Alert' website. This is designed to equip the public with the tools they need to protect themselves against fraud.
It is regularly updated with information about the latest tricks and scams and contains tips and advice on how to avoid being conned. For more information visit www.met.police.uk/report/fraud.