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Scammers hit German government

(Image credit: Image Credit: Gustavo Frazao / Shutterstock)

The German province of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) wanted to give out millions to small businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak, but was instead scammed out of its money, Engadget has reported.

According to the report, the province set up a website through which small business owners and the self-employed could request financial aid to alleviate the economic effects of the coronavirus.

A group of hackers created an almost identical website, then organised an email campaign inviting business owners and the self-employed to sign up. The hackers then used stolen information to register on the official site.

Allegedly, the province's identity verification system was set up poorly, allowing people to request financial aid without providing identification.  

The fraud scheme lasted for three weeks, after which NRW pulled the site offline. The police had received more than 500 reports of fraud, and it was said NRW was giving out anywhere between $9,700 and $27,000 in financial aid, making for a maximum potential loss of $109 million.

Talking to ZDNet, a programmer from Cologne said it was easy to fall prey to this scam, because the government-created site was new and unfamiliar.

"This was a new site that nobody had seen before and we wouldn't have been able to tell if it was the real one or not,” said the unnamed individual. “It explains why so many fell for it and entered personal data.”