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Government anti-fraud strategy targets the tech behind the scams
The UK government’s anti-fraud strategy proposes to make it much harder for criminals to target their victims by cracking down on the exploitation of technology
A national anti-fraud strategy, launched today, will target digitally enabled fraud and scams, taking the fight to the criminal underground and stopping fraudsters from ever reaching their victims, the government has claimed.
Earlier today, prime minister Rishi Sunak tabled a number of key measures designed to make it harder for criminals to use modern technology to trick ordinary people out of their money.
“Modern technology has opened up new ways for criminals to bombard people with a barrage of fake calls, texts, emails and WhatsApp messages,” said Sunak. “Fraud now accounts for over 40% of crime. It costs us nearly £7bn a year and we know these proceeds are funding organised crime and terror. What’s more, new technologies are making these scams easier to do and harder to police.”
The strategy will see legislative action taken to outlaw SIM farms – technical devices that enable criminals to bombard thousands of potential victims with scam texts simultaneously.
The government will also enlist telecoms regulator Ofcom to help put a stop to number spoofing, where scammers impersonate UK telephone numbers to trick people into divulging their personal information, thinking they are on the phone to their bank, internet service provider (ISP), and so on.
Finally, Westminster is proposing to enact a ban on cold calls on all financial products, so that anybody who receives a phone call from someone trying to sell them a product such as a cryptocurrency investment scheme or insurance service will know it’s a scam from the jump.
At the same time, the government wants to bring more fraudsters to justice, and to this end has enlisted the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the City of London Police to establish a National Fraud Squad, creating 400 new jobs in the process. It also plans to step up collaboration with law enforcement agencies abroad, and make more use of the UK’s intelligence services – including the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) – to identify and disrupt overseas-based criminals targeting individuals in the UK.
Empowering ordinary people
Sunak said that often, when people fall victim to scams, they may feel upset, panicked, embarrassed and worried they will never get their money back.
To help alleviate these concerns, the government is proposing to spend £30m on a new reporting centre, to be opened later in 2023, and wants to work with technology companies to make it easier to report fraud online.
It will also explore giving banks more time to process payments, which might help with the investigation of more suspicious transactions.
“Our plan will help protect you and your loved ones from these scams and the predators who perpetrate them,” said Sunak. “The time has come to put the fraudsters out of business. And that’s what I’m determined to do.”
According to Experian, credit card fraud hit a 10-year high in 2022, and while government measures are welcome, even vital, said the firm’s managing director for identity and fraud in the UK and Ireland, Eduardo Castro, ordinary people can help themselves at the same time.
“There are also several things people can do to keep their information secure online,” he said. “Making sure they don’t overshare personal details on social media, or enabling multi-factor authentication for their online accounts can go a long way to preventing ID fraud.
“It’s an evolving battle but many businesses are meeting the challenge of fraud head on,” said Castro. “For instance, UK Finance found that advanced anti-fraud prevention systems deployed by banks prevented £584m from being lost to fraud in the first half of 2022. New, cutting-edge technologies incorporating machine learning are bolstering efforts and having a positive impact.”
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Graeme Biggar, director general of the NCA, said: “The NCA welcomes the new fraud strategy and our role in the National Fraud Squad. Through the National Economic Crime Centre, we will drive a proactive intelligence-led response, holding fraudsters to account and protecting the public from criminals increasingly online and overseas.
“We want fraudsters to feel the same vulnerability they inflict upon their victims, as we target their infrastructure, expose their identities and bring them to justice.”
City of London Police assistant commissioner Pete O’Doherty added: “With more than half of all crime being fraud and cyber related, this strategy is essential to policing. We tackle and coordinate some of the most complex fraud cases across the country.
“But the national policing response to economic crime has been under-powered,” he said. “This new strategy, with fraud now being included in the Strategic Policing Requirement, means that we can improve and coordinate the local to national response in order to stop fraudsters and better protect victims, ending the misery and devastation criminals cause.”