Good Guys v Bad Guys
Updated: Jan 6
I sometimes sit back and reflect on the fact that I was comparatively lucky in my ‘career’, inasmuch I was never convicted; however, if I’m totally honest, I’m not convinced it was a fair fight to begin with. Let me explain.
There are some very obvious differences between myself and those who sought to catch and prosecute me. They were, and continue to be hamstrung by rules and regulations, and probably most important of all - ethics, whilst I was free to do whatever I wanted. My personal ‘boundaries’ were of my own choosing and had everything to do with my own preferences and nothing to do with legislation. That said, there was little that I considered to be beyond the pale. As I’ve mentioned previously, the only thing that called a halt to my own career in fraud was when my elderly parents were defrauded and watching the devastating effect it had on them and their health.
It makes me laugh when I read newspaper headlines like ‘Crime is up 2% since last year’. There is so much crime that never gets reported to the police, especially in relation to fraud, that these figures are complete nonsense. It’s also true to say that many of those involved in fraud these days were previously involved in something less lucrative but more risky e.g. robbery. The demographic of fraudsters has changed too; where the typical fraudster was once more likely to be a mature guy in his 40’s, the probable age of those involved in the cybercrime end of the business is about 20+ years younger. So not only is the profile of overall crime changing, the profile of fraudsters is changing too.
Where fraudsters score massively is their ability to adapt their approach at a moments notice to take advantage of new products or fashionable trends. Through no fault of their own (I can’t believe I just said that) the Old Bill takes ages to get up to speed and often by the time they are getting anything like close, the bad guys have closed up shop and are onto the next scam.
As I described in an earlier post, opening a bank account is simplicity itself. Despite all their promises and assurances, they haven't got a clue how fraudsters operate, and as a result, they run rings around them. Once the account is up and running, it’s ‘open season’ on punters. If the bank do get complaints or even allegations that the account is being used to scam people, they rarely do anything. If someone has taken a ‘brave pill’ and freezes the account, I’ve known bad guys ring up and cry down the phone professing their innocence and explaining that this is just a cash-flow problem and the ‘victim’ is just upset as they haven’t been able to pay them. The fact that the account has been frozen is just making matters worse. Most accounts are un-frozen immediately.
If things get really bad, I’ve known bad guys ring up the bank and threaten to slit their wrists whilst on the phone, unless the account is unfrozen. This causes the issue to be rapidly escalated to a senior manager. The banks clearly need to protect (a) their own backside and (b) the reputation of the bank. The last thing he or she wants, is to be all over the front of the tabloids as the manager of a certain bank who had caused the death of a customer over a couple of thousand pounds. The account is unfrozen, funds continue to be moved - even if its only for a couple of extra weeks.
If the Old Bill want to known virtually anything at all about an account or transactions, they need to go to court and apply for a Production Order. Typically they do this when they are trying to ‘follow the money’, however, by the time they get there the money has been moved somewhere else. They get another Production Order and by the time they get there…….. I’m sure you get the picture.
Whilst fraud is indeed a huge problem - its not sexy. It is never going to knock Covid, terrorism or knife and gun crime (or even Ant and Dec) off the front of the national newspapers. Whilst that is understandable, it’s also ironic, given the massive linkages between terrorism and how a large element of the funding comes from fraud.
Only one in ten cases of cyber crime is investigated by police and 99 per cent of crooks escape justice. The country’s top anti-fraud cop, City of London Police Commissioner Ian Dyson, conceded: ‘We cannot arrest our way out of this problem.’ Mr Dyson said the explosion in fraud and cyber crime means it is impossible to haul all the culprits before the courts, adding: ‘You are more likely to have money taken from you online than you are in the street.’ The officer, who has been a victim of card fraud, also said some online scams were so simple to set up, he questioned why criminals would bother to rob a bank.I could not agree more!
Why should I go to all of the trouble of acquiring a gun and a ski mask when all I need is a burner mobile phone and a cloned credit card. I know the worst I can expect if I'm stopped and searched and the card is found, is a few awkward questions. On the other hand being found in possession of a ski mask and hand gun is likely to result in me being shouted at be a very nasty looking cop dressed in black and carrying a bigger gun than mine, roughly forced to my knees and then bound with cable ties and thrown into the back of a Police van.
My criminal colleagues universally agree that they would never be stupid enough to draw a gun on a cop because (a) their guns are bigger and better (b) they are trained and would not panic as we would, (c) the sentence increases exponentially upon conviction. It all adds up to me spending a significant portion of my life being spent in a small room and defecating in front of someone who i would prefer not to introduce to my family. Alternatively, even if convicted of an offence in relation to the cloned card, I'm unlikely to get anything more than a few hours community service. NB; In the absence of detailed and direct intelligence (i.e. a tip-off) I need to point out that the chances of the Old Bill stopping a white middle class and smartly dressed male are few and far between.
Commissioner Dyson believes the scale of the problem is so vast, the national reporting system ‘couldn’t cope’ if the banks passed on all of their fraud reports to police. Describing cyber crime as an ‘industry’, Mr Dyson said his officers had to be honest with victims about the chances of culprits being caught: ‘From the very start we are managing expectations, but equally what we don’t want is a mindset that says there is no point in reporting to us because we are not going to do anything.’
So in a nutshell, it looks something like this.
Cops are restrained and hamstrung by legislation and bureaucracy whilst fraudsters do as they please.
Cops must play be the rules, whilst fraudsters ignore them completely
Cops have competing demands and performance targets to meet. Fraudsters go after easy targets with little chance of being caught.
The more trained detectives are diverted to look at other types of crime, the less chance fraudsters have of being caught
Banks have little incentive to prevent or detect fraud whilst fraudsters do this to fund lavish lifestyles.
The financial services industry makes all the right noises about trying to eradicate fraud, but they do not have the knowledge or ability to join up the dots and make sense of patterns of behaviour.
Until the cops are better resourced and trained, and until banks and other financial institutions share information in a meaningful way, nothing will change. My former colleagues can sleep soundly as we all know that neither of these things are going to happen anytime soon.