Photo: Office Search. The National Cyber Security Centre in London.

Illegal ventures by online fraudsters are believed to have cost the British public around £200 million in 2018 alone, as the criminals go to great lengths to lure gullible citizens to their phishing websites.

UK cybersecurity pros have blocked or outright removed hundreds of thousands of “get-rich-quick” sites that boast of bogus endorsements from celebrities like billionaire investor Sir Richard Branson and singer Ed Sheeran, The Times reported.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which is part of GCHQ, combed through and finally took down over 300,000 malicious links to bogus schemes in four months, with the agency warning the public to be wary of them.

Emails and paid-for digital ads lure users into clicking on hyperlinks to hoax websites featuring fake “get-rich-quick” offers, the specialists explained.

In particular, netizens are encouraged to click a link to invest or donate, but the money automatically goes to cybercriminals.

The NCSC’s email reporting service has so far received more than 1.8 million reports in the past few months, resulting in 16,800 phishing sites being blocked or taken down, with the the fraudsters’ malicious activities having already cost the British public over £197 million in 2018 alone.

“These figures provide a stark warning that people need to be wary of fake investments on online platforms”, urged Clinton Blackburn, from the City of London Police, cited by The Times.

“Celebrity endorsements are just one way criminals can promote bogus schemes”, Blackburn warned.