100 people arrested in UK’s biggest fraud probe | Fraud

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More than 100 people have been arrested in Britain’s biggest-ever fraud operation, which brought down a website police describe as a “one-stop spoofing shop” used by fraudsters to steal tens of millions of pounds from Britons via fake bank phone calls.

It is estimated that more than 200,000 potential victims were targeted via the iSpoof fraud website, which was taken down this week by Scotland Yard’s cybercrime unit with the help of authorities in the US and Ukraine.

At one point, almost 20 people every minute of the day were contacted by fraudsters hiding behind fake identities created using the site, and it is estimated that criminals may have stolen close to £50m. The actual amount is likely to be higher as fraud is often underreported.

One victim was defrauded of £3 million, while the average amount stolen was £10,000. Those running the scam shop made around £3.2m over a 20-month period, it is estimated.

Fraudsters paid iSpoof, which was created in December 2020, for a service that allowed them to hide their phone number and pretend to be calling from a credible organization, such as a bank or tax office. The fraudsters used bitcoin to pay for the service.

They would then trick people into handing over money or giving them access to their bank accounts. In the year to August, around 10 million fraudulent calls were made globally via iSpoof, of which around 3.5 million were made in the UK. Of these, 350,000 calls lasted more than a minute and were made to 200,000 people.

Users of the service, which was shut down this week, thought they were anonymous. However, this was not the case and more than 100 people have so far been arrested as part of Operation Elaborate, mainly in London.

The arrests include the alleged mastermind behind the website, Teejai Fletcher, who police described as living a “lavish” lifestyle.

Fletcher, 34, of Western Gateway, east London, has been charged with making or supplying articles for use in fraud, taking part in the activities of an organized criminal group and proceeds of crime on November 7. He was remanded in custody and will next appear at Southwark Crown Court on December 6.

The Met, which led the operation, began investigating iSpoof in June 2021 and worked with international law enforcement agencies, including those in the US, the Netherlands and Ukraine, to shut down the website.

Investigators infiltrated the website – which had 59,000 users – and discovered 70 million rows of data and bitcoin records so they could begin tracking down the suspects.

Since the pool of suspects is so large, the investigation is initially focused on UK users and those who spent at least 100 bitcoin to use the site.

Det Supt Helen Rance, who leads cyber crime for the Met, said: “By removing iSpoof we have prevented further offenses and stopped fraudsters targeting future victims.

“Our message to criminals who have used this website is that we have your information and are working hard to find you wherever you are.”

Police have a list of phone numbers targeted by iSpoof scammers and will be contacting potential victims by text on Thursday and Friday. Any message received after November 25 was not from the police, it warned.

The text message will ask victims to visit the Met’s website to provide more details about their experience. It will not contain a clickable link.

Anyone who has not been contacted by the Met but believes they have been the victim of a scam number spoof should report the incident to Action Fraud.

The police force said it plans to use the proceeds from Crime Shop for a refund where possible.

Met Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said: “By removing the tools and systems that have enabled fraudsters to cheat innocent people on a large scalethis operation shows how determined we are to target corrupt individuals intent on exploiting often vulnerable people.”

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