Scammers hope to exploit cost of living crisis, UK police say | Scams

The cost of living could be the next front line for scammers, the head of Britain’s fraud unit has warned, with criminals using the crisis as a way to lure potential victims.

DCI Gary Robinson, head of the Cards and Payments Crimes Unit (DCPCU), said he believed fraudsters could take advantage of financial pressure to persuade people to hand over their personal details.

“The next thing I can foresee is that criminals will use the cost of living crisis to do social engineering – they could send messages offering discounts on gas and electricity and gamble on people’s vulnerabilities,” he said.

Robinson was speaking to the Guardian as the DCPCU marked its 20th anniversary and prepared to release figures showing 2021 was a banner year for fraud prevention.

The unit, which is funded by the financial sector and made up of officers from the city and metropolis police force as well as members of the banking sector, blocked £101million worth of crime last year in operations targeting gangs. His investigations into scams and fraud involving bank customers led to 123 arrests and disrupted the activities of 23 organized criminal gangs.

Since the start of the pandemic, fraudsters have used a range of themes in texts and emails to trick people into clicking on links and providing details, which were then used to persuade them to hand over money. money from their accounts.

“Scammers move with the times — whatever the latest trend is, that’s what they tend to turn to,” Robinson said. “During the pandemic we started with vaccines, then moved to tax refunds as people were working from home, then back to vaccines, then delivery scams as people shopped online . Then we saw an increase in romance scams as people felt alone at home.

The unit’s work led to several convictions linked to Covid scams, including one person who harvested victims’ details by sending texts claiming to be from the NHS.

The £101m prevention figure is based on the estimated value of a crime that would have taken place had the unit not seized data or equipment such as devices containing personal data and card skimming tools.

Robinson said the unit had benefited from increased support from telecommunications and social media to track down criminals, who were increasingly reliant on technology to track down their victims. “We were executing a warrant years ago and once you entered the property there was an old fashioned filing cabinet that you pull out and find stolen cards and forged checks,” he said. “Things are happening now in a faceless way.”

During the pandemic, fraud levels have soared and last year UK Finance reported that £754million had been stolen from bank customers in just six months.

Robinson said cases handled by the unit, which focuses on the organized crime gangs behind the frauds, have been slow to process, in part because of the scale of the fraudsters’ operations. .

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“Our desire is not just to weed out low-level criminals, but to climb to the top of the tree,” he said. The shared intelligence from the unit and its 20 years of experience have made this possible.

While some crimes involved bank insiders, possibly planted there by organized gangs, many involved con artists claiming to be from the fraud departments of banks and building societies.

Robinson said his job made him suspicious of the calls he received. “My bank called me the other day about a transaction and my first thought was, ‘Is this my bank?'” he said. Rather than answer right away, he said he always stops and checks first. “There is nothing wrong with rejecting, refusing or ignoring the requests they make. Criminals will try to rush you, but your bank or the police won’t.

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