Britain’s police said on Thursday that their biggest ever counter-fraud operation has disrupted an international criminal network targeting hundreds of victims in millions of spam phone calls.
The Metropolitan Police led an 18-month global investigation into the iSpoof.cc website, working with Europol, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies around the world.
A total of 142 people have been arrested, one of whom is reportedly one of the London-based administrators. Suspects were arrested 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 website and thousands of its users. The site enables users to access software tools to illegally obtain victims’ bank account funds and commit other frauds.
Met Commissioner Mark Rowley said the investigation indicated “a different approach” to criminals exploiting the technology.
“It’s about starting with the organized criminals who actually perpetrate the fraud and the fraud that we see in the world around us,” he told reporters.
The London force – Britain’s largest – said that in the year to August, suspects paid to access the website and make more than 10 million fraudulent calls worldwide.
About 40 percent were in the United States. More than a third were in the UK, targeting 200,000 potential victims there alone.
Fraud detection agencies have so far reported losses of £48 million ($58 million) in the UK alone. Victims lost an average of £10,000. The largest single theft was three million pounds.
Losses to victims worldwide are estimated at over £100 million.
“Since fraud is so under-reported, the full amount is believed to be much higher,” the Met Office said.
The force said the people behind the site made around £3.2 million from it.
So far only about 5,000 British victims have been identified.
However, the Met’s investigation has found 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 their website, where details can be securely logged.
“What we’re doing here is trying to industrialize our response to the industrialization of the problem of organized crime,” Rowley said.
The iSpoof website – described as “an international one-stop spoofing shop” – was created in December 2020 and at its peak had 59,000 users paying between £150 and £5,000 for its services , according to Met.
This enabled subscribers, who could pay in bitcoin, to use so-called spoofing tools that made their phone numbers appear as if they were calling from banks, tax offices and other official bodies.
Organizations commonly copied 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, criminals were then able to defraud their victims.
Detective Superintendent Helen Raines, who leads cybercrime for the Met, said: “They worried about fraudulent activity in their bank accounts and tricked them.”
She noted that those contacted would typically be instructed to share a six-digit banking passcode from which their accounts could be cleared.
The Met launched “Operation Elaborate” in June 2021, partnering with the Dutch police, who had already started their own investigation after iSpoof servers were based there.
A subsequent server running in Kyiv was shut down in September and the site was permanently disabled on 8 November.
The previous day the Met charged Teejay Fletcher, 34, from east London, with offenses of fraud and organized crime group.
He remains in custody and will next appear in a London court on 6 December.
“It’s fair to say he was living a lavish lifestyle,” Rains said, noting that the investigation is ongoing.
“Instead of just shutting down the website and arresting the administrator, we are going after the users of iSpoof,” he said.
The Met said two other suspected administrators are at large outside the UK.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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