Fraud gangs posing as government officials are contacting schools in a schools ransomware scam scam, attempting to hold importance computer files to ransom, police have warned.

Schools Week reports that Action Fraud has issued a warning over a number of reports of a so-called schools ransomware scam. The scam involves fraudster cold-calling schools and engaging staff in confidence trickery, allowing them to access files and encrypt them until a ransom is paid.

The police have said fraudsters call schools claiming to be from the ‘Department of Education’, ask for the personal email and/or phone number of the head teacher or financial administrator and then send damaging files.

Scammers reportedly claim they need to send guidance forms to the headteacher, varying in subject from exam guidance to mental health assessments.

They then claim they need to send these documents directly to the head and “not to a generic school inbox”, arguing that they contain sensitive information.

Emails include zip files containing ransomware which once downloaded encrypt files and demands up to £8,000 to recover them.

The scam is similar to another seen by schools, from fraudsters claiming to be from the Department for Work and Pensions and telecoms providers.

To ward against the scammers, police are urging staff not to be fooled by callers using personal details of headteachers to sound genuine. Staff should be mindful that the school’s website could provide these kinds of facts and should ask more questions.

They also urged schools to listen out for scammers describing their employer as the ‘Department of Education’, rather than the correct ‘Department for Education’.

Officers have also issued the following advice:

  1. Don’t click on links or open any attachments you receive in unsolicited emails or SMS messages.
  1. Do not pay extortion demands as this only feeds into criminals’ hands, and there’s no guarantee that access to your files will be restored if you do pay.
  1. If you have been affected by this, or any other scam, report it to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040, or visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk.