Think that you are too smart for the cyberscammers? The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) reported that 1 in 10 people in the UK have bought fake medical products online in 2020. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) reported an increase of 23% increase in the number of consumer enquiries on possible financial scams. Even before the pandemic, online scams were on the increase: back in March 2020, the government released its Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2020, which noted that since 2017, there has been a 14% increase in phishing attacks.
So what can be done? A key part of disrupting online crime is disrupting the domain name which is used to carry out the fraud (ie by use of sophisticated websites and/or domain name typos). In March 2020 Nominet announced that it would introduce a 12 month pilot system for linking/redirecting visitors from suspended domains to secure pages containing law enforcement information. Previously, internet users would usually see an error message when a domain was suspended for criminal activity and have no idea why. Now they will see information on how to navigate the web safely. This was the first industry-led initiative of its kind. See our Lens post here.
Fast forward to November 2020, and Nominet’s landing pages became a reality. First was a collaboration with the City of London’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU). Under this arrangement, Nominet redirected web users to a secure site providing consumer advice and education for potential victims of sales of counterfeit medicines and other branded goods. Presumably given the rise of COVID-related online fraud, a collaboration with the MHRA was envisaged but not live at that time. See our later Lens post here.
Fast forward further still to February 2021, where Nominet announced that the pilot would be extended to not only the MHRA, but also the FCA and the National Crime Agency (NCA). In particular, internet users will be directed to landing pages hosted by Nominet:
- with MHRA resources giving advice on how to safely buy medicines online and prevent the purchase of fake medicines;
- with FCA resources giving advice and guidance on how to spot a financial scam and clones of FCA regulated firms; and
- with Action Fraud with information on reporting fraud and internet crime.
The pandemic has caused a sharp increase in both online medical and financial fraud due to a roller coaster global health condition combined with an atmosphere of prolonged economic uncertainty. Nominet’s landing pages mentioned above are just the start: Nominet intends to launch landing pages with other law enforcement agencies. It is hoped that a combination of cutting oxygen to the fraudulent domain name and educating the public will cause a reduction in online phishing scams. And that can only be a good thing for online brand owners, who would otherwise be playing a costly and time-consuming game of whack-a-mole with would-be cyberscammers.
Many thanks to Alyssa Medalla for her research assistance in preparing this post.
“In addition to clarifying why the domain has been suspended, these bespoke pages will direct the public to official government resources designed to help them buy medicines safely, avoid financial scams, and report fraud. These pages are designed to give vital information and support to the UK public at a time when they need it most while still disrupting criminal activity.” - Eleanor Bradley, MD of Registry & Public Benefit, Nominet.