September 25, 2019

Cybercriminals could target Thomas Cook customers in wake of collapse

By Luke Christou

Following the collapse of travel company Thomas Cook, those that had booked trips through the UK-based operator could be targeted by cybercriminals hoping to take advantage of their holiday blues, a cybersecurity expert has warned.

The 178-year-old company was forced to cease trading with immediate effect this week after the government rejected the company’s pleas to plug a £200m gap in its finances.

The collapse left 150,000 holidaymakers potentially stranded abroad and resulted in as many as 22,000 job losses worldwide.

Cyrus Mewawalla, head of thematic research for data analytics company GlobalData, blamed Thomas Cook’s struggles on its failure to invest in disruptive technology, telling Verdict that its management had “failed to comprehend” key changes in the industry, such as online travel.

“Had it invested early in these disruptive technology themes, it could have been a very different story,” Mewawalla said.

Beware Thomas Cook refund messages

Now Jake Moore, a cybersecurity specialist for internet security company ESET, has called for Thomas Cook customers to be tech-savvy in the wake of the collapse.

“Since Thomas Cook collapsed, there will no doubt be an increase in scammers calling and emailing potential victims,” Moore said. “Those caught up in the mess are more vulnerable and scammers will try to trick unsuspecting victims into parting with more money, thinking they are going to get refunds.”

There have been no known reports of customers being targeted in this way. However, cybercriminals are known to use social engineering techniques to trick particularly vulnerable victims into handing over sensitive information and money. With many Thomas Cook customers out of pocket, there will be opportunities for scammers to exploit.

“When such contact is made and delivery of compensation is offered, it can be very tempting to click and start divulging private data,” Moore explained.

“We have seen many similar attempts by cybercriminals in the past after high-profile companies have gone into administration.”

Such attempts can come in the form of phishing emails, vishing (voice phishing) phone calls, or smishing (SMS phishing) messages sent to a mobile phone. These messages will typically be designed to appear as if they have been sent by legitimate organisations.

Customers that receive such emails should check the email address of the sender, and look out for a lack of personalisation or mistakes in the copy – obvious signs of a phishing campaign. Don’t download attachments if you’re unsure about the legitimacy of the email, and definitely don’t hand over payment information or money.


Read more: Spotting and avoiding phishing scams so you don’t get hooked