RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Scambusters? No, sorry.. the wrong kind of coppers

RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Scambusters? No, sorry… the wrong kind of coppers. It’s no wonder the annual fraud haul is around £3 billion a year. But law enforcement has failed to keep pace

The email from ‘BTINTERNET’ telling me my broadband was about to be cut off dropped at 6.53am yesterday.

It said I hadn’t paid my bill and had ignored all reminders. If I wanted to prevent my service being suspended I had to click on a link and follow the verification and payment procedures.

Even though I was still half asleep, I could tell instantly that it was obviously a scam. And not a very good one, either.

The fact that the email was titled: ‘Massage from BT’ was a dead giveaway. It went straight in the bin.

The next one, from Norton Security, was far more professional. It contained a bill for renewal of my annual anti-virus software contract. For a moment, I almost clicked on it — until I remembered that I don’t use Norton software.

Then I switched on my iPhone to find a text informing me that Adam from the Post Office had attempted to deliver a parcel to my home but no one was there to sign for it. There were directions to a website where I could arrange for it to be redelivered.

I spotted this one straight away. There were several of these scams swilling around last year, purporting to come from UPS, FedEx and the like, all asking for a small payment to guarantee safe arrival of goods ordered online.

During lockdown, with everyone relying on home deliveries, plenty of people fell for it only to discover they had been the victim of an online mugging.

I must get dozens of these bogus emails and texts every week. Most of them are intercepted by my junk filter but some still slip under the radar.

So I wasn’t surprised to learn from the Mail’s investigations team that Britain is now the world’s fraud capital, with losses amounting to almost £3 billion a year.

I got wise to this kind of scam eight years ago, when my identity was stolen. I returned from holiday to find a package containing a brand new Apple laptop waiting for me. It had been taken in by a builder doing some work on the house while we were away.

The receipt said it had been bought by me from the Apple Store a few days earlier. I knew I hadn’t ordered it and there were no recent purchases on my genuine Apple account.

My own bank manager reassured me that neither my account nor credit card had been hacked and there was no unusual activity.

When I called Apple, they said it had been ordered by ‘Richard Littlejohn’ using a fake email address and a personal finance loan from Barclays. Since I don’t bank at Barclays, I assured them it wasn’t me so could they send someone to pick it up.

Sifting through the usual pile of junk mail that had arrived while we were away I found a letter from Barclays, welcoming me to my new Partner Finance Account and informing me that my monthly repayment of £99.99 was now due and would be taken by direct debit.

Eventually, I got through to a woman at Barclays customer service and discovered someone had appropriated my name, address and date of birth, along with a company directorship I held. Not difficult, since they were a matter of public record.

Even so, how were they able to open an account in my name without further proof of identity, such as a passport or driving licence? She wouldn’t tell me, hiding behind the catch-all excuse of ‘data protection’.

Barclays did agree to close the account and report it to their fraud team. When I asked to be put through to the fraud team, the woman said they didn’t take calls from the public. Presumably they wrote off the bogus loan.

I had a hell of a job persuading Apple to take back the laptop, which retailed then for £999. Turned out big banks and corporations didn’t bother to chase fraud under £1,000.

Or at least they didn’t in 2014. The cut-off could have doubled by now, for all I know.

How this particular scam worked was that the crooks would track the package online then intercept the delivery company at the front gate, pretending to be the householder. In my case, the builder beat them to it and they were left empty handed.

But since the fraudsters must know they stand little chance of getting caught, they too would have written off the loss of the laptop as an occupational hazard.

Online fraud has become far more sophisticated since those early emails from Nigeria promising you a fat commission if you’d let them transfer £5 million to your bank account for safekeeping.

The police never bother to investigate car crime or burglaries, why would they lift a finger to look for a fraudster who stole my identity and attempted to steal a laptop worth less than a grand?

No wonder the annual haul is around £3 billion a year and seems to be rising inexorably.

Law enforcement has failed to keep pace.

Things weren’t much different eight years ago. Like any upstanding citizen, I felt it was my duty to report the theft of my identity to the police.

On their dedicated fraud website, I was asked to fill in a multiple choice questionnaire. The only identities they were interested in were my sexual proclivity, my ethnicity and, even then, whether I still defined as the same sex as I was when I was born.

Presumably this process is even more elaborate these days, now that there’s an exciting array of 1,001 genders to choose from. Naturally, I refused to comply with their impertinent request, which is probably why after allocating me a crime number I never heard another word from them.

Maybe if I had filled in the form claiming to be trans or gay they’d have classed it as a ‘hate crime’ and scrambled a team of highly trained detectives by helicopter.

Still, since the police never bother to investigate car crime or burglaries, why would they lift a finger to look for a fraudster who stole my identity and attempted to steal a laptop worth less than a grand?

Despite the fact that there are reportedly 23 different agencies tasked with tackling fraud, the police have finally admitted they’re not doing enough.

Fraud now accounts for 39 per cent of all crimes committed in Britain, but as the Mail revealed yesterday only two per cent of police manpower is currently dedicated to investigating it.

One of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Constabulary has admitted that the number of officers involved in hunting down scammers needs urgently to be tripled.

We’re effectively being bullied by the big banks into doing our banking online and millions of us, especially the younger generation, carry every last cough and spit of our identities on mobile phones

Two-thirds of Britain’s police forces have no specialist fraud officers and the overwhelming number of cyber crimes reported are filed under ‘no further action’.

And although the Government is funding a recruitment drive, most of those being hired lack the necessary skills for tackling online fraud and are better suited for general duties.

I can remember the railways regularly blaming cancellations on the ‘wrong kind of snow’. But I’ve never before heard a senior policeman blaming a failure to investigate crime on the wrong kind of coppers.

At least now, to be fair, the police have woken up to the scale of this cyber-crime epidemic and are belatedly trying to address it.

It doesn’t help that we’re effectively being bullied by the big banks into doing our banking online and that millions of us, especially the younger generation, carry every last cough and spit of our identities on mobile phones.

Until law enforcement catches up, the cyber scammers will remain one step ahead of the posse.

So it pays to be extra vigilant when clicking on suspect emails and texts, however legitimate they may appear.

The internet is still in its infancy, a largely lawless landscape like the Wild West, with bad guys lurking behind every rock.

So as Sergeant Phil Esterhaus used to warn his patrol officers every morning on the classic cop show Hill Street Blues:

Let’s be careful out there.

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