Costa Book Awards targeted by cyber criminals

The Costa Book Awards, the Commonwealth Foundation and The Royal Society of Literature have all been targeted by cyber criminals with regard to so-called ‘phishing’ scams, according to a report in industry bible The Bookseller.

The prestigious Costa Book Awards, which has prize money of up to £30,000, has been emailed by scammers several times, according to a spokesperson:

“The Costa Book Awards have received phishing emails connected to prize winnings in the past. However, these were quickly identified as hoax emails and deflected.”

Cyber criminals have also attempted to hit the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, worth £5,000.

“We were targeted in the same way as some others – the winning author was impersonated by scammers on email to request payment of the prize money via PayPal,” said a spokeswoman for the  Commonwealth Foundation.

The Royal Society of Literature (RSL), which manages the £10,000 Encore Award, confirmed to The Bookseller that it also received a phishing email “which sounds similar in nature to those sent to other literary prize bodies”.

The revelation of the targeting of the awards bodies comes as UK authorities revealed that they took down more online scams last year than in the previous three years combined as the Covid-19 pandemic fuelled an increase in cyber-crime.

Experts oversaw a huge 15-fold increase in the number of scams removed from the internet, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said.

In the last year more than 700,000 online scams totalling 1.4m URLs were removed, according to the organisation’s fourth annual report.

There was a sharp increase in efforts to scam people using NHS branding, with the number of phishing campaigns more than tripling.

The NCSC also blocked 43 fake NHS Test and Trace mobile apps, while criminals also attempted to use the vaccine rollout to dupe victims.

“Whether it has been protecting vital research into the vaccine or helping people work from home securely, the NCSC has worked with partners to protect the digital homeland during this unprecedented period,” said NCSC chief executive Lindy Cameron.

While coronavirus-linked scams drove up total numbers, in the UK, HM Revenue & Customs remains the most targeted brand for phishing campaigns.

Attempts to clone part of the website remained high, while TV Licensing was also targeted following the scrapping of blanket free TV licences for over-75s.

The increase in scams comes after the NCSC, which is part of intelligence agency GCHQ, last year launched a suspicious email reporting service to help members of the public report potential crimes.

The spy body has also worked to expose cyber-crime by hostile states, such as Russian attacks on COVID-19 vaccine development.