'Ministry of Justice' scam email attracts hundreds of calls

News by Tim Ring

The Government's Action Fraud helpline has received hundreds of calls in just 24 hours from end users concerned about a new email phishing campaign that purports to come from the Ministry of Justice.

The scam email advises the recipient that they owe a £70 parking fine and encourages them to click on an attachment to see photographic evidence of the offence and pay the fine. The emails are spoofed to look like they come from the Justice Ministry at ‘justice.gov.uk'.

Action Fraud issued a warning about the campaign on 10 March. A spokesperson for the helpline told SCMagazineUK.com: “We've received a significant number of calls - in the region of 500 - on the matter since yesterday. This campaign is noteworthy because they are using a Government Department as cover. Claiming to hold photos is also a way of creating some intrigue to make a person open the attachment.”

Action Fraud was analysing the malware at the time of writing. “We can't clarify what it is yet but we do know it's not CryptoLocker or ransomware,” the official said. The emails have been sent to the City of London Police's National Fraud Intelligence Bureau for investigation.

The increasing sophistication of this and other phishing emails has led to a call for the Government to do more to raise people's awareness of the risk. Security expert Professor John Walker, from consultancy firm Integral Security Xssurance, said the latest scam should not be looked at in isolation, and urged the Government to run a national advertising campaign to inform end users.

He told SCMagazineUK.com: “We're saying to people to watch out for this particular email, but what about all the other emails you get about tax credits, about your bank? They're doing the right thing by saying we've found this one. But it's a bit like saying be careful this virus is in circulation, when there's thousands more viruses out there.

“What's frustrating is we're still not getting through to the public. We, the security community, are very good at telling ourselves about the problem, what we're not good at doing is communicating it to the general public. The Government should have a campaign out there – on billboards, on posters, on TV - to tell people just be aware of email, because it's costing the economy money. The Government needs to be proactive and actively help secure where the insecurity is occurring - and that's with the public, not with the security community.”

The realistic ‘Ministry of Justice' email comes from the address justice.alerts@public.gov.delivery.com and claims to be a parking charge ‘Reminder Notice', with details including references to a vehicle parked on a specific day and time, scale of the fine, additional charges if not paid within 28 days and liability to pay costs.

Users who receive the email are advised to delete it, then tell Action Fraud (call 0300 123 2040 or use their online fraud reporting tool). Anyone who has opened the attachment should use updated anti-virus software to clean it out.

Action Fraud, run by the National Fraud Authority, is the UK's central point of contact to report and find out about cyber fraud and theft. It partners with law enforcement and other agencies including City of London Police, Victim Support and Get Safe Online.

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