The pandemic has seen a dramatic increase in the number of scam messages sent via text, email, WhatsApp, and other messaging platforms …

Bloomberg reports that in the UK alone, more than 700K scams were detected in 2020 – a 15-fold increase on 2019. Scammers commonly send messages pretending to be from Apple, government agencies, banks, chain stores, delivery companies, and celebrities.

The U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre took down 700,595 malicious campaigns last year, 15-times more than a year earlier as the number of scams increased and it began targeting new types of fraud, the agency said in a report published on Monday.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to a surge in malicious hacking and phishing attempts globally as fraudsters took advantage of more people working from home, which led to weaknesses in corporate security and fears about the virus that led people to click on links purporting to have information about the disease.

And the stakes are getting higher with hackers increasingly targeting hospitals and companies that operate critical infrastructure. A ransomware attack forced the operator of the biggest gasoline pipeline in the U.S. to shut down late Friday in an incident that’s threatening to destabilize fuel supplies.

A popular tactic for defrauding people during lockdowns was to impersonate the U.K. government, with pages pretending to be tax or health authorities to exploit people searching for information amid upheavals including Brexit and emergency coronavirus measures.

Common scam messages include:

Claiming that a small payment is required for delivery of a package. In these cases, it is not the small sum of money scammers are after, but rather your bank details.

Another common way of obtaining bank details is claiming that you are due a tax refund. Tax authorities will never send such messages and request any details – they will either adjust your tax code so that you pay less tax the following year, or just send you the payment.

Fake celebrity endorsement for cryptocurrency or other investments are also common. In the UK, scammers frequently use Richard Branson and MoneySavingExpert founder Martin Lewis for these.

The best advice is to assume any unexpected message containing a link is a scam unless you are certain it is genuine. Always visit websites from your own bookmarks or typing URLs manually, as it is very easy to use Unicode characters to create convincing-looking fake web addresses.

You can find here more specific tips for scam messages claiming to be from Apple.

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