Search

Infamous Bitcoin scam returns with police officer replacing celebrities as bait

A genuine-looking phishing scam involving Holly Willoughby and cryptocurrency has once again been circulating online, this time with a police officer - not a celebrity - as her guest, subsequently becoming the clickbait/phishing element of the scam.


The original scam


The scam, which has been in existence for a couple of years, involves popular This Morning presenter Holly Willoughby amidst false claims she invested in a digital payment system, typically Bitcoin, live on air with a celebrity guest.


Original versions of the scam seem to suggest that Holly was amazed by just how quickly her guest earned a large amount of cryptocurrency in such a short space of time. The celebrities claimed to have been on the show - and therefore used to bolster the scam campaign - include Russell Brand, Jeremy Clarkson, Lord Alan Sugar, Gordon Ramsey and Money Supermarket Expert, Martin Lewis. None of these celebrities have ever been on the show in conjunction with cryptocurrency gains, and they have all publicly distanced themselves from the scam, as have Holly and her co-presenter, Phillip Schofield.


Each celebrity has had their image very cleverly superimposed onto a still image by the scammers, which made it appear as though they were actually on the show chatting with Holly.


The original photograph used in the scam is from a genuine interview with equally innocent Akshay Phillips, Britain’s youngest self-made millionaire.


The "guests" supposedly earn a significant amount of money in minutes, and Holly is falsely quoted as saying: “I’ve heard about many Bitcoin success stories over the past few years but it was always too complicated for me to understand.”, suggesting that it’s now really simple to use.


Holly’s “claim” that it’s now perhaps easier to make money than it once was - combined with the genuine-looking imagery and the endorsement from the celebrity - has resulted in many people falling victim to the scam.


The phishing trick becomes successful when the reader, intrigued by how much money they too could earn, clicks to watch the clip of the video, which of course, does not exist.


The link takes the user to a phishing site which collates the data from the device they used to view it, including the phone number if viewed on a phone. One user we spoke to was bombarded with phone calls from Bitcoin brokers after she had clicked on the link.

“I clicked on a link that said Gordon Ramsey had made a large amount of money in minutes, live on This Morning. The image looked incredibly real. Since I clicked on it, I have received calls from America, Switzerland, Germany and Malaysia to name just a few places, with the person on the other end asking the same question every time: ‘So I understand you wish to invest in Bitcoin?’, which I do not”.


The new 'police officer scam' and police intervention


It's believed that the same fraudsters behind the celebrity scams are now trying a different angle, with a police officer seemingly chatting to Holly about her success with the cryptocurrency.


The headline, supposedly from The Mirror, reads ‘Female police officer from (UK town) has revealed how she earns £18,000-a-month. People think I have a sugar daddy!” - but the URL is not the Daily Mirror’s own.


It is presented as a news story and claims that the police officer, Emma Davis, had challenged Holly to deposit money live on air.


It then says: “After she (Holly) deposited the initial £200, the algorithm started to buy Bitcoin and other currencies for cheap, selling them for a higher price very quickly. Within only seven minutes, Holly made a profit of £60.24.”


The scam is once again centred on convincing people that the chat happened live on national television, that national media covered it and with the hook this time being that a police officer - a trusted pillar of the society - was endorsing it. But that is not the case, and a female police officer going by the name of Emma Davis has never appeared on This Morning.


This scam has led to police in North Yorkshire to issue a warning to residents after they became aware of the scam circulating on at least one local Facebook group.


According to police, the article uses an image and details of a genuine officer from another as-yet unknown police force, but which describes her as being from York to lure local people into the scam.


Officers say that when you click the link it takes you to what appears to be a website for the Mirror newspaper, however, it is fake and has been engineered as a phishing website, as with the celebrity scams.


Police believe it is directly linked to Bitcoin, and it is possible that once you click on the link it may download a virus onto your device or steal your bank details or other personal information.


A spokesperson for North Yorkshire Police said: “We would also ask that if you are an admin of a local Facebook group and have seen this scam then please delete it immediately. Please also ensure if you are sharing posts to local Facebook groups that they are genuine and are not likely to put other members at risk of being scammed.”


But it’s not just North Yorkshire. The scam has been reported in other areas of the UK, and this week the EMCRC were made aware of an article running on Google with an officer from Derbyshire Constabulary as a guest on the show.


One Derbyshire resident who was duped into clicking the link said that almost as soon as he had clicked to watch the non-existent clip he was contacted by people trying to encourage him to invest in Bitcoin, again from oversees numbers.


It would appear the link tailors itself to users based on their geographical settings, so people in North Yorkshire see the headline of an officer from York, people in Derbyshire see an officer from Derbyshire and so on. The same scam has also been reported in Wiltshire.


So what about Holly?


In regard to the purported celebrity endorsement scams which use Holly’s image, a source told The Sun newspaper: “Holly has nothing to do with this scurrilous scheme and it’s dreadful that con artists think they can scam innocent people out of cash using tactics like this.


“The website looks completely genuine and it is not surprising people think it could be legitimate.”


Both Holly and Phillip Schofield are aware that their images are being used in the scam and both have taken to social media to warn their followers that it's a con.


 

Reporting

Report all Fraud and Cybercrime to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or online. Forward suspicious emails to report@phishing.gov.uk. Report SMS scams by forwarding the original message to 7726 (spells SPAM on the keypad).

 

The contents of blog posts on this website are provided for general information only and are not intended to replace specific professional advice relevant to your situation. The intention of East Midlands Cyber Resilience Centre (EMCRC) is to encourage cyber resilience by raising issues and disseminating information on the experiences and initiatives of others. Articles on the website cannot by their nature be comprehensive and may not reflect most recent legislation, practice, or application to your circumstances. EMCRC provides affordable services and Trusted Partners if you need specific support. For specific questions please contact us by email.

 

EMCRC does not accept any responsibility for any loss which may arise from reliance on information or materials published on this blog. EMCRC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites that link to this site or which are linked from it.