The Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) is using data mining technology to identify the social networks and "trade routes" used by fraudsters who are costing the UK an estimated £3.5bn a year.
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This emerged from a Soca briefing today on a "day of action" that saw police in the UK, US, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain and Nigeria swoop on suspected fraudster gangs.
Most of the suspects are using internet e-mail and telephone to "mass market" scams to targeted vulnerable people. Most scams known as advance fee frauds, worth an estimated £340m a year in the UK, are distributed using e-mail spam.
This is where a fraudster asks the victim for a processing, handling or finders' fee before delivering a large sum of fake money as a lottery prize, bequest, commission fee, etc.
Paul Evans, executive director of Soca and head of investigations, said the agency was working with industry to alert banks and others to 419 and other scams.
Asked what response he had had from the IT industry, he said much of the spam was mixed up with legitimate e-mail. "We do not want to interfere with that," he said.
Colin Woodcock, senior manager for Soca's 40-strong fraud crime techniques unit, said data mining was very big in Soca. It found the technology very useful in identifying links between suspects.
Evans added it helped to identify bottlenecks in the fraudsters' trade routes. By attacking these, police could reduce fraudsters' activity quickly.
He said fraud was a low risk, high return business that has attracted organised criminals looking for "seed capital" to fund illegal drug dealing, people smuggling and other criminal acts.
Organised crime costs the UK £35-40bn a year, he said. This was the first time organised crime officers had got involved in fraud investigations. Soca's main aim was to raise the risk and cost of fraud to protect the public and also cut off funds for more serious crime.
Evans, a 30 year veteran of drugs and tax crimes, said he had been surprised by the extent of fraud in the UK revealed by the Office of Fair Trading research. Last year the OFT asked 11,500 people about their experience with frauds. Following in-depth interviews with victims, the OFT estimated 3.2 million adults, 6.5% of the UK's adult population, lost £3.5bn in scams.
Mike Haley of the OFT's Scambusters team, said 419 scams were worth around £340m. "That makes it a priority for the OFT," he said.
Evans said fraudsters were using advanced behavioural marketing techniques and "incredible persistence" to con people, including violence.