The collapse of the package holiday operator Thomas Cook left thousands of holidaymakers stranded, hundreds of thousands of holiday bookings have been cancelled, and more than 9,000 staff have lost their jobs. The company and other UK firms in its group have been forced into compulsory liquidation and cybercriminals have been quick to take advantage. Dozens of Thomas Cook-related domains were registered following the collapse of the firm and several Thomas Cook phishing scams have been detected.
Customer that have incurred out-of-pocket expenses as a result of the collapse of the company and anyone who has paid for a package holiday that has been cancelled may be entitled to a refund or compensation. That has given scammers the perfect opportunity to launch phishing attacks seeking bank account an credit card information.
Customers who have booked Thomas Cook holidays are protected under the ATOL scheme and refunds are being processed by the Civil Aviation Authority, which has set up a subdomain on its website – thomascook.caa.co.uk – where customers can submit claims for refunds. More than 360,000 holidays have been booked for more than 800,000 holidaymakers, who are entitled to refunds. More than 60,000 customers submitted refund forms on the first day that the website was set up and claims for out-of-pocket expenses are being processed by travel insurance firms. The CAA has stated that it will take 60 days for the refunds to be issued.
Anyone who has yet to submit their claim should exercise caution as there are multiple phishing scams being conducted offering money back on canceled holidays, reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses, compensation, and fake updates on the status of refund claims. Any email received in relation to Thomas Cook should be treated as a potential scam.
Scams may be conducted with the aim of spreading malware or ransomware. Malicious code is contained in file attachments that trigger a malware download when the attachment is opened. However, far more common in situations when people are demanding refunds is to send phishing emails containing hyperlinks to malicious websites. Those websites require sensitive information such as credit card information and bank account details to be entered. Scammers are well aware that in order for refunds to be processed, bank account information would be required and phishing forms have been set up on fake Thomas Cook domains to do just that.
While there may be some giveaways that emails are not genuine – spelling mistakes and grammatical errors – some Thomas Cook phishing scams are virtually impossible to distinguish from genuine communications. Banks have also been notifying customers by email, which has presented scammers with even more opportunities to hoodwink Thomas Cook customers. There have also been reports of former employees being targeted by scammers offering compensation.
The golden rule to avoid becoming a victim of Thomas Cook phishing scams is never to respond to a request in an unsolicited email. Attachments should not be opened, hyperlinks in emails should not be followed, and contact information included in the message body should not be used. Only use official channels such as the CAA website, and contact banks and travel insurance firms directly using verified contact information.