Fake NL-Alert coronavirus message a cyber scam, warns RIVM

A fake NL-Alert was sent as a scam, health agency RIVM said on April 20, 2020
A fake NL-Alert was sent as a scam, health agency RIVM said on April 20, 2020RIVMTwitter

Health agency RIVM warned the Dutch public of a cyber scam disguised to look like an emergency alert that was blasted out to mobile phone users Monday morning. The message started with the phrase "NL-Alert", the name of the country's national crisis communications system, and was sent out to phones via SMS.

The RIVM does not itself send out NL-Alerts, a spokesperson told NL Times.

The SMS said, "[NL-Alert] In connection with the corona (COVID-19) virus, the RIVM is now offering a limited number of healthcare packages. We recommend that you purchase it as soon as possible," with a URL at the end to be clicked on by the user.

The attention the SMS received prompted the agency to distribute a message via social media warning people of the problem and telling them not to click on the link in the message. "Do not click on the link in the message," the RIVM said.

Police previously cautioned the public over cybercrimnals using email and fake websites with the appearance of a government agency or private business as part of a coronavirus-linked phishing scam which lures people into providing personal information. Last year, the ruling cabinet pledged to tackle phishing schemes which use SMS to modify the law to give consumer authority office ACM the power to address the problem. The issue has been around for about five years, with one man being swindled out of about a million euros in a single 2019 incident.

Police in the Netherlands issued a blunt warning telling the public to be on the lookout for cybercriminals using the coronavirus to swindle people. The scammers often use fake emails or fake text messages to obtain personal information from their victims, police said in a statement.

One of the ways cybercriminals have used the coronavirus is by sending emails where they pretend to be representatives of government agencies, companies or employers. The criminals send links via these channels to trick people into providing personal data which can then be exploited. Often the links or attachments lead the user to install a virus or malware on their own computers.

The RIVM referred the matter to the Ministry of Justice and Security for investigation. The ministry has oversight over counter-terrorism office NCTV, the office in charge of the NL-Alert system.

A spokesperson for the ministry was not immediately available for comment.