© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A man holds a laptop while cyber code is projected onto it in this illustrated image taken on May 13, 2017. REUTERS / Kacper Pempel
By Lawrence White and Iain Withers
LONDON (Reuters) – It was an email offering a discount on an electric toothbrush that started the sequence of events that ruined Anna’s life.
Within minutes of entering your card details, you received a call from your bank informing you that fraudulent transactions were taking place. The next day, Robert Clayton from Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority called to say that they were pursuing the criminals responsible, but that their savings were at risk.
However, there was no toothbrush. No fraud department, no Robert Clayton. They were all part of a scam to gradually divert Anna’s life savings, and within a few weeks the scheme had been successful, to the tune of approximately 200,000 pounds ($ 270,000).
“I am still in shock, guilt and shame are impossible to convey,” said the 78-year-old widow from central England, who did not want her full name used in this story.
She is one of thousands of people who have seen savings washed away this year by an unprecedented wave of online banking fraud that hit Britain, where she is more likely to be a victim of online fraud than anyone else. crime.
The country is the global epicenter of such attacks, according to five of Britain’s biggest banks and more than a dozen security experts who said scammers were buying batches of consumer personal data on the darknet to target record numbers. shopping and banking online. since the pandemic.
The country’s ultra-fast payments infrastructure, relatively light surveillance of fraud-related crimes, in addition to its use of English, the world’s most widely used language, also made it an ideal global testbed for scams, they added. banks and specialists.
A British record 754 million pounds ($ 1 billion) was stolen in the first six months of this year, up 30% from the same period in 2020, according to data from the banking industry body UK Finance, and more from 60% of 2017 when he started compiling the figures.
That represents a per capita fraud rate roughly triple that seen in the United States in 2020, according to a Reuters calculation from UK Finance and the latest available data from the Federal Trade Commission.
“The most sophisticated fraud tends to start in the UK and then move two years later to the US and then around the world,” said Ayelet Biger-Levin, vice president of product strategy at cybersecurity firm BioCatch. , based in the US -Bank Fraud Technology.
“In the last 12 months we have seen more fraud attacks than we have seen in any other year in history. Data breaches have also accelerated, so there is much more personal information that criminals can take advantage of.”
‘THE MONEY WOULD HAVE SUPPORTED US’
Unlike the simple email-based scams of the past pretending to be from princes or oil barons seeking your help in turning their millions, the modern banking scam can be sophisticated, multi-phase, and extremely compelling.
“We’ve seen some cases where the scammer has been talking to someone for three or four years as someone else before they actually get scammed out of a large amount of money,” said Brian Dilley, group director for economic crime prevention. at the largest Lloyds bank (LON :).
Deena Karia, another scam victim, told Reuters how she lost 10,000 pounds in early February after buying a seemingly safe bond allegedly issued by Credit Suisse (SIX 🙂 and apparently listed on the MoneySuperMarket price comparison site.
After filling out a form on the website and receiving a call from a staff member there, he called them at the number listed on the website to verify that the phone number was legitimate, did further verification on the bond, and continued to invest.
Karia, from the outskirts of London, still doesn’t know exactly how her money was stolen, but she believes that the scammers may have created a fake website that mimics MoneySuperMarket.
The genuine MoneySuperMarket warned on February 15 about criminals spoofing its website and posing as its staff. A company spokesperson said it is working to remove those fake websites and phone numbers, working with the FCA to highlight cloned websites and reporting problems to the police.
“I lost my dad not long ago, I’m taking care of my mom and that money would have supported us for years,” Karia said.
Barclays (LON :), his bank, has reimbursed only half the money, saying he could have done more to protect himself.
“We have our full sympathy for Ms. Karia, who was the victim of an investment scam, and as the Financial Ombudsman Service is investigating the case, we await the completion of her review,” Barclays said.
FAST PAYMENTS, FAST FRAUD?
The government’s National Economic Crimes Center (NECC) agrees with the banking sector’s assessment that fraud poses a threat to British security.
“It’s growing from an already enormous scale,” said Chris Reed, fraud threat leader at NECC, who said he met at least monthly with bank chiefs, technology executives and telecommunications companies to assess and respond to the threats.
Britain’s Faster Payments network, which allows transfers between bank accounts to be settled instantly rather than within hours or days as in the United States and other developed banking markets, means that funds can be quickly disposed of by criminals.
“The faster payment system has facilitated faster fraud,” said Richard Emery, a fraud expert who is advising Anna and 63 other scam victims whose average loss is 102,000 pounds.
Pay.UK, which runs the network, said the system supported the British economy, consumers and businesses. He added that criminals were getting better at exploiting digitization and that he was working with industry and the regulator to combat fraud.
While security experts and high-level bankers said that many fraud attacks could be traced abroad, including in India and West Africa, Britain is also increasingly exporting attacks.
Crimes such as authorized automatic payments (APP), in which a criminal posing as your bank or other trusted company tricks people into authorizing a payment, are proliferating around the world after starting out as a phenomenon in much of the UK.
The country ranks second in the world behind the United States as a source of automated bot attacks, the fastest growing type of fraud attack in the world, according to data from LexisNexis Risk Solutions, a financial crime analysis firm.
Bot attacks cause criminals to use a large volume of stolen identity credentials to invade a website, allowing them to set up new accounts or access existing ones.
“It’s popular to say that the threat of fraud is imported into the UK, and I don’t think an analysis is necessary,” said NECC’s Reed. “There is an important link in the UK with a lot of fraud, our operational experience shows this.”
HSBC: THE UK IS A CENTER OF FRAUD
British banks, which often pay the bill for compensation when people are scammed, are trying to respond.
HSBC, which has operations in the Americas and Asia, has hired more than 300 employees in a year to support its anti-fraud operations in its local market and has increased annual spending by 40% to serve an “exponential” number of customers. affected. the bank told Reuters.
“The UK is the focus of activity for scammers. The UK currently accounts for around 80% of our global personal fraud losses,” he said.
Lloyds said it had invested £ 100m in its defenses over the past two years, while rival NatWest has 10% of its 6,000-strong workforce dedicated to fighting financial crime. TSB has hired an additional 100 employees to help fraud victims in the last year.
But lenders are also pushing the government to share the burden on social media platforms, where they say some attacks originate. British lawmakers told the bosses of Facebook (NASDAQ :), Google (NASDAQ :), Amazon (NASDAQ 🙂 and eBay (NASDAQ 🙂 last month that they needed to fight fraud more.
Reed of the NECC said another problem was that only 1% of police resources were dedicated to fighting fraud, even though it accounts for more than a third of all crime in England and Wales.
“I will not hide from the fact that the provision of resources for the response is completely out of step with the scale and severity of the threat. We have a mountain to climb.”
This means that criminals are encouraged to target people like Anna, who has little hope of recovering her savings.
The scammers had told her to switch her cash “at risk” to an account on a cryptocurrency platform that they emptied, while isolating her from the family by emphasizing secrecy and advising her on how to respond to skeptical banking officials.
“They knew the name of my financial advisor, they were absolutely compelling as FCA staff,” he said. “And they told me that I couldn’t tell anyone about the investigation, as it would hurt their efforts to catch the criminals.”
($ 1 = 0.7327 pounds)
(This story is corrected to ‘widow’ from ‘widower’ in the fourth paragraph)