UK police say their largest-ever anti-fraud operation has disrupted an international criminal network targeting hundreds of thousands of victims in millions of spam phone calls.
LONDON (Reuters) – British police said on Thursday that the largest-ever anti-fraud operation has disrupted an international criminal network targeting hundreds of thousands of victims in millions of spam phone calls.
The Metropolitan Police led the global investigation for 18 months at the iSpoof.cc website, working with Europol, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies around the world.
A total of 142 people were arrested, including one of the alleged officials in London. The suspects were caught in Australia, France, Ireland and the Netherlands, while servers in the Netherlands and Ukraine were shut down.
UK police believe organized crime groups are linked to the site and its tens of thousands of users. The site enables users to access software tools to illegally obtain victims’ bank account funds and to commit other frauds.
Commissioner Mark Rowley, who met, said the investigation indicated a “different approach” to criminals exploiting the technology.
“This is about starting from the organized criminals who drive and create the fraud that we see in the world around us,” he told reporters.
– industrial fraud –
The London force – the UK’s largest – said in the year to August suspects paid money to access the site and make more than 10 million scam calls worldwide.
About 40 percent of them were in the United States. More than a third of them were in the UK, targeting the 200,000 potential victims there alone.
Fraud detection agencies have so far recorded losses of £48m ($58m) in the UK alone. Victims lost an average of £10,000. The largest single theft amounted to three million pounds.
Losses to victims worldwide are estimated at more than £100 million.
“As the fraud was so significantly underreported, the full amount is believed to be much higher,” Mette said.
The force added that those behind the site were paid nearly £3.2m.
Only about 5,000 British casualties have been identified so far.
However, the Met’s investigation has yielded the phone numbers of more than 70,000 potential victims, who have yet to be contacted.
The force will attempt to reach them over the next two days, sending text messages directing those contacted to its website, where details can be safely recorded.
“What we’re doing here is trying to manufacture our response to manufacturing organized criminals for the problem,” Rowley added.
– ‘Detail process’ –
iSpoof – described as a “one-stop international plagiarism shop” – was set up in December 2020, and at its peak had 59,000 users paying between £150 and £5,000 for its services, according to the Met.
It gave subscribers, who could pay in bitcoin, access to so-called spoofing tools that made their phone numbers appear as if they were calling from banks, tax offices and other official bodies.
The organizations most often imitated include some of the UK’s largest consumer banks – including Barclays, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds and Santander.
Combined with customers’ bank and login details, obtained illegally elsewhere online, the criminals were then able to defraud their victims.
“They would worry[about]fraudulent activity on their bank accounts and scams,” explained Detective Superintendent Helen Rance, who leads cybercrime at the Met.
She noted that people contacted will typically be asked to share six-digit banking passcodes to allow their accounts to be emptied.
The Met launched “Operation Elaborate” in June 2021, in partnership with the Dutch police, who had already launched their own investigation after an iSpoof server was located there.
A subsequent server running in Kyiv was shut down in September and the site was permanently disabled on November 8.
The day before, Met hotelier Teejai Fletcher, 34, from east London, was charged with fraud and organized crime.
He remains in detention and will next appear in court in London on December 6.
“It is fair to say that he lived a luxurious life,” Rance said, noting that the investigation is still ongoing.
She added, “Instead of simply taking down the site and arresting those responsible, we stalked iSpoof users.”
It noted that two suspected officials outside the UK remain at large.
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