UK grappling with cyber scamsters based in India

Scamsters based in call centres in India have been netting millions of pounds by preying on Britons, who are threatened with action for non-existent tax debts or whose computers are compromised while servicing faults through remote access.

The latest such scam was revealed by the Daily Mail on Monday, with footage showing Ahmedabad-based individuals posing as tax officials, calling thousands of people in Britain every day using numbers in the BT phone directory, and terrorising them into paying to resolve issues.

New figures from the City of London Police, which is the apex UK body dealing with cyber crime, victims lost £34.6 million between April and September 2018, amounting to an increase of 24% from the previous six-month period. Over 13,000 cyber crime reports were lodged, many linked to India.

On ‘computer software services fraud’, analysis and inquiries by the City of London Police show that many of the calls originate in India and that the worldwide losses from victims are considered to be in the hundreds of millions of pounds.

City of London Police has a team to explore what it calls “global solutions” to cyber crime, but admits the international nature makes it difficult to trace payments and suspects: “Suspects involved in call centres of this nature can often move on very quickly”, a spokesperson said.

The Daily Mail investigation revealed scamsters blatantly operating by using an IP address registered in Afghanistan, threatening Britons over the phone with ‘action’ unless they paid thousands of pounds into an account. Victims reportedly include elderly and new Asian immigrants with poor knowledge of English and the UK tax system.

A spokesman for the UK’s tax office (HMRC) said: “We became aware of phone scams using the threat of HMRC action escalating during 2018, with a significant increase to over 4,000 reports a month from July 2018. In the 12 months to February 2019 we received 73,382 reports of suspicious HMRC phone calls”.

There have also been reports of Indian students and new immigrants being targeted. Fraudsters pose as officials of the Home Office and threaten them with deportation or jail on the ground of alleged discrepancy in the victims’ visa papers.

The reports prompted the Indian high commission to issue an advisory for Indians citizens in the UK and those intending to visit the UK: “A number of incidents have come to the attention of the High Commission involving fraudsters having telephonically cheated some Indian nationals by posing as officers from UK Home Office/ UK immigration/ UKBA”.

“These fraudsters extort money from Indian nationals, claiming that mistakes were noticed in their passports, visa forms, immigration forms etc. and that they should deposit money (as demanded by these fraudsters) to have these mistakes rectified or else they will be deported or imprisoned in UK”.

“In some cases, these fraudsters have also falsely claimed that they received such information about Indian nationals from the High Commission of India in London, other authorities in India, British High Commission in New Delhi etc…The High Commission does not send any such notifications to UK authorities”.

London Police has been collaborating with Microsoft to deal with ‘computer software service fraud’, which involves the victim being contacted and told that there is a problem with their computer and that, for a fee, the issue can be resolved.

Once the fraudster claiming to call from Microsoft or other companies has access to the victim’s computer they can install potentially malicious software. The victim is persuaded to grant remote access to their computer and provide payment details.

“The fraudster then uses a variety of methods to obtain access to the victim’s bank account to extract large sums of money. The victim may also be contacted again later and are told they are due a refund and they are again asked for access to the account. The fraudster will use this opportunity to take more money”, the police said.

First Published:
Mar 18, 2019 23:59 IST

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