Police to text 70,000 victims in UK’s biggest anti-fraud operation – comments from expert fraud lawyer

Further to the news that the Police have begun texting 70,000 victims of a major banking scam in the UK’s biggest anti-fraud operation, Nicola McKinney, Partner at Quillon Law, commented: “There are risks associated with the police using the same phone numbers that victims were scammed on to send them legitimate texts. Fraudsters will no doubt be alert to the police’s communication that victims can expect a text in the next 48 hours, and could tailor any fraudulent communications to correspond with that timeline.

“Whilst the police say they are aware of the potential dangers, it is unclear how they are mitigating the risks. Victims may understandably be reluctant to trust a communication received on their phone after previously losing money to an apparently credible message.

“The police are reportedly confident that the iSpoof website which assisted the fraudsters at a price was backed up before it was shut down. How the fraudsters came to have the victims’ phone numbers is unclear, and these contact details may be in the hands of other fraudsters who are still at large.

“Today’s police operation raises the broader question of whether this represents a change in how the police tackle fraud. The iSpoof website was reportedly identified as among those posing the ‘greatest risk’ to the public, with a large number of victims and up to £3 million in individual losses in one case.

“The iSpoof crackdown also included an element of cross-jurisdiction cooperation between police and other investigating bodies in the UK, The Netherlands and the USA, which may point to increased unity and cooperation between law enforcement agencies tackling international frauds.

“The Police’s method of communicating with the victims suggests that chronic underfunding within the police remains a serious problem. Whilst a strenuous logistical endeavour, a way to avoid having to contact victims by text message would be to arrange in-person meetings, which are far harder and riskier for fraudsters to impersonate.

“For victims of the fraud, there are unfortunately significant hurdles to ever being compensated for what they have lost. Victims often look to their banks for compensation, but with the banks providing more warnings via online banking apps, encouraging customers to consider any information they give out or to consider fraud risks when making transfers, a voluntary provision of a passcode may mean that banks will not be willing to make good these losses.

“Taking legal action to recover lost funds is an option that is unlikely to be available to most victims, and identifying the fraudsters or those holding the funds is likely to be nearly impossible without obtaining information from banks, which in itself could be a costly exercise. Speed is also of the essence, as funds are often transferred to inaccessible locations very quickly.

“The overall legal costs of taking civil action is likely to be prohibitive, and aside from instances where hundreds of thousands or millions of pounds have been lost is likely to be disproportionate.”