National cybersecurity, mobile and banking industry groups joined a Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF) initiative to curb use of SMS by fraudsters in the UK during the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

The UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), operator trade association Mobile UK and banking organisation UK Finance backed MEF moves to prevent scammers using the crisis as an opportunity to defraud consumers.

In a statement, NCSC technical director Ian Levy explained a recent mass-messaging campaign by the UK government relating to the pandemic “demonstrated the need for such industry collaboration in order to protect consumers from these kind of scams”.

MEF developed and trialled a message proofing register, the SMS SenderID Protection Registry, to record proven companies and block fraudulent messages. To date it blacklisted 418 sender IDs, 70 related to the government’s campaign.

Its trial currently covers 50 bank and government brands, with 172 trusted sender IDs registered to date.

Scammers trick customers into sharing financial details or sending money through SMS messages under the guise of trusted senders, a technique labelled as smishing. Another technique known as spoofing is also used to make a message appear in a chain alongside a genuine organisation.

Gareth Elliott, Mobile UK head of policy and communications said: “Mobile companies work hard to protect their customers from fraud and the contribution from the industry to the registry will help reduce the number of scam texts pretending to be from trusted brands.”