High profile medical scams
The age of the internet and rise in online shopping has seen consumers become increasingly vulnerable to fraud and scams. Designed to make innocent victims part with their cash, scams can be varied; ranging from fake lotteries to cowboy builders.
Health and medical scams specifically target people who have a medical condition or who are concerned about their health, weight, or any other aspect of their wellbeing. Medical scams again include a wide mix of different scams and fraud; miracle cures, penis enlargement and fake online pharmacies.
Email and adverts
Emails and adverts are two of the most commonly used methods of communication between scam artists and the innocent consumer. An email drops into your inbox with the promise of a new ‘wonder drug’ or ‘instant cure’ for a range of conditions; naturally your interest is sparked. The crux of such campaigns that really sucks consumers in is that the products are marketed as being cheap and good value for money.
It is this contact via email and the internet that gives scams the potential to be so dangerous. Consumers buy the latest herbal remedy or wondrousnew superfood online, revealing their bank account and credit card details to unscrupulous vendors. So not only do they then have something that has no health benefits what so ever, their details are available for scam artists to use to continually access their bank accounts.
Pills, therapies, supplements or superfoods claim to offer ‘cures’ for weight-loss, acne, cancer, diabetes, baldness, even AIDS. This is one of the first things that consumers should look out for; a product that is promising to act as a cure for unrelated conditions and illnesses. Ailments like this often taken a lot of time to cure, some may be financially demanding while some might be incurable.
Miracle products have often not been scientifically tested and rather than being beneficial to consumers’ wellbeing they may cause more harm than good. Retailers offering money-back guarantees are frequently associated with miracle cure scams but alas, they disappear when people try to contact them for a refund. Meanwhile, glowing testimonials from patients or doctors that are featured on such a product’s website should be investigated and not taken for face value; they could easily be made up.
Fake online pharmacies
Online pharmacies offering prescription drugs at a reduced cost are also common sights on the medial scam market. Websites or companies like this should set alarm bells ringing straight away; they are offering prescription drugs to people without a prescription, an illegal act in itself. To capture people’s interest, fake online pharmacies often advertise well-known drugs such as Viagra or Prozac.
The fact they are claiming to have ‘the real deal’ medication at a fraction of the RRP is also fairly suspicious and is likely to mean that that pills or tablets are not genuine. On this basis, there is no telling exactly what chemicals have been used to produce them, they may be past their use-by date or could react adversely with other medications one may be taking.
That is, of course, if consumers receive the medications they have ordered in the first place; an online pharmacy is usually a cover or ‘front’ used to gain access to financial information or to load spyware onto users’ computers.
Online dating sites are becoming increasingly popular platforms to recruit victims of ‘medical emergency’ scams. Con-artists join such sites and start to build a relationship with other users. Just as the online ‘relationship’ starts to take off, the online partner suddenly confronts the victim with a medical emergency. They may not be able to afford treatment for surgery for themselves or a family member, or alternatively the victim receives a call from a third party saying their partner has been in a serious accident and they need to send money treatment can start.
It has often been seen in these situations that the scammer will pretend to be a Western man but the majority of scam-artists are based in Africa. It is also common place that online partners will suffer from a host of medical ‘complications’, things that will ultimately require more money from the victim.
Although medical scams can be varied in their format or approach, they are all designed with one common aim; to earn money for the con-artists. Being vigilant and aware of the medical scams that are out there and how people are targeted are one of the first steps victims can take to protect themselves from this type of fraud.
How healthcare can safeguard itself against cyberthreats
One of the most fundamental lessons from the COVID crisis is that health should always be a priority. In a similar fashion to the human body that frequently fights off viruses and foreign invaders that intend to cause it harm, the sector itself is now a prime target for another type of external threat: cyberattacks.
The figures speak for themselves: between December and January this year, hospitals in the UK were at 89% capacity, with 7,000 fewer available beds than there usually are. As the pandemic increased pressure on hospitals, clinics, and research facilities to create a treatment for patients globally, it has left the sector exposed to hackers who, like a virus, have been targeting it relentlessly and evolving their tactics.
From patient records being held ransom, to fake emails claiming to originate from the UN WHO, the NHS, or vaccine centres, through to attacks on the cold supply chain to find out the secret formula of the COVID vaccine, the healthcare industry is facing constant cyberattacks and struggling to cope. This threat is unlikely to go away anytime soon – and as such, the industry needs to take a proactive, preventative stance to stay safe in a dynamic digital world.
The responsive nature of healthcare – particularly of hospitals – means that efficiency is crucial to the industry’s standard operations. To support this, the sector has been embracing technological advancements that can improve the quality of work, enabling staff to meet pressing deadlines, and enhancing patient care. For example, the industry has been digitising records and improving its ways of working through digital means over the past few years.
This shift is critical to offer high quality patient care; yet, it also means the sector has become more dependent on IT, which can come with a risk if cybersecurity processes employed are deemed as inadequate.
Without the correct security measures in place, the desired efficiency gains realised, can be easily lost in a heartbeat. Simply put, an elementary glitch in the system can have a tremendous ripple effect on many areas, from accessing patient records and conducting scans, to maintaining physical security and protecting the intellectual property of experimental treatment development.
To prevent this, healthcare organisations need to ensure they’re considering cybersecurity as part of their overall digital transformation strategy – and setting the right foundations to create a culture where safety goes hand in hand with patient care.
Before implementing cybersecurity process, healthcare organisations need to assess the potential risks they face. Depending on how much confidential data the trust has, where it is stored, who has access to it and via which means, the cybersecurity strategy and associated solutions will change.
It’s fair to say that a medical device start-up where all employees have a corporate-sanctioned laptop and access data via a VPN will have radically different needs to a large hospital with hundreds of frontline workers connecting to the hospital’s Wi-Fi using their personal device.
These requirements will pale by comparison to a global pharmaceutical giant with offices in multiple locations, a large R&D department researching new treatments for complex diseases and a fully integrated supply chain. Considering the existing setup and what the organisations is looking to achieve with its digital transformation strategy will therefore have an immediate impact on the cybersecurity strategy.
Despite this, there are fundamentals that any organisation should implement:
Review and test your back-up policy to ensure it is thorough and sufficient – By checking that the organisation’s back-up is running smoothly, IT teams can limit any risks of disruption in the midst of an incident and of losing data permanently.
In our recent State of Email Security report, we found that six out of ten organisations have been victims of ransomware in 2020. As a result, afflicted organisations have lost an average of six days to downtime. One third of organisations even admitted that they failed to get their data back, despite paying the ransom. In the healthcare industry, this could mean losing valuable patient records or data related to new treatments – two areas the sector cannot afford to be cavalier about.
Conduct due diligence across the organisation’s supply chain – Healthcare organisations should review their ways of working with partners, providers and regulatory institutions they work with in order to prevent any weak link in their cybersecurity chain. Without this due diligence, organisations leave themselves exposed to the risks of third party-led incidents.
Roll out mandatory cybersecurity awareness training - Healthcare organisations shouldn’t neglect the training and awareness of their entire staff – including frontline workers who may not access the corporate network on a regular basis. According to our State of Email Security report, only one fifth of organisations carry out ongoing cyber awareness training.
This suggests it is not widely considered as a fundamental part of most organisations cyber-resilience strategy, despite the fact many employees rely on their organisation’s corporate network to work. By providing systematic training, healthcare organisations can help workers at all levels better understand the current cyberthreats they face, how they could impact their organisation, the role they play in defending the networks, and develop consistent, good cybersecurity hygiene habits to limit the risks of incidents.
Consider a degree of separation – Information and Operational Technology (IT and OT) networks should be separated.
Although mutually supported and reliance on each other, employees shouldn’t be accessing one via the other. This should be complemented by a considered tried and tested contingency and resiliency plan that allows crucial services to function unabated should there be a compromise. Similarly, admin terminals should not have internet access to afford a degree of hardening and protection for these critical accounts.
As the sector becomes a common target for fraudulent and malicious activity, putting cybersecurity at the core of the organisation’s operations is critical. It will help limit the risks of disruption due to cyberattacks, reduce time spent by the cybersecurity team to resolve easily avoidable errors, and ensure that institutions can deliver patient care, safe in the knowledge that their networks are safe.
Fighting future threats
With technology continuing to change the face of healthcare, the surface area and vectors available for attacks by malicious actors is constantly increasing. With the introduction of apps, networked monitoring devices, and a need for communication, the attack vector is ever expanding, a trend that needs to be monitored and secured against.
To prevent any damage to patients, staff, or the organisation they are responsible for, healthcare leaders must put security front and centre of their digital transformation strategy. Only then can the sector harness the full benefits of technology. Doing this should include implementing cybersecurity awareness training to challenge misconceptions around security, encourage conversation, and to ensure employee knowledge of the security basics and threats faced.
This ultimately allows healthcare organisations to do what they do best: provide the highest standard of patient care, safe in the knowledge that their operations, patients, and data are safe.