Firms and residents warned to beware fraudsters following £100m cyber crime alert

Manager Shirley Popham at Popham hair salon in North Parade, Oxford, which suffered a cyber attack last May. Picture: OX59660 Ed Nix

Thames Valley Police and crime commissioner Anthony Stansfeld

First published in News
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The Oxford Times: Photograph of the Author by , Crime Reporter, also covering Barton and Wood Farm. Call me on (01865) 425427

FRAUDSTERS could be scamming more than £100m out of the county every year,the region’s crime commissioner has warned.

Thames Valley Police and crime commissioner Anthony Stansfeld has said more needs to be done to stop criminals conning cash from Oxfordshire’s businesses and the county’s most vulnerable.

Mr Stansfeld said fraud was growing as professional criminals made use of the internet to hijack bank transfers and steal their victims’ identities. The commissioner added that the UK as a whole was thought to lose more than £50bn every year, so Oxfordshire ‘must be losing more than £100m’.

He said: “We account for one of the more economic zones of the country. In the Thames Valley it’s difficult to believe it would be less than £1bn.”

And he warned residents: “If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is.

“Wake up to the fact that there are people out there trying to defraud anyone they can. It is on the rise.

“The trouble is very few frauds or cyber crimes are committed in one police area or indeed one county.

“They extend across several police forces and several counties.

“It is very difficult for a local police force to investigate.”

The PCC said he had received scam emails, including one from a hacker posing as a friend claiming to be stuck in Ukraine and needing money.

He said: “A lot of companies are scammed. The banks are scammed a great deal and they have to pay out a lot for other people who have been scammed.”

At present fraud complaints are dealt with by the Government’s London-based Action Fraud. The service is due to be taken over by the City of London Police.

But Mr Stansfeld said the system was not working and called for more investment to tackle fraudsters.

He said: “I don’t think it is a very satisfactory system nationally. We should be putting a lot of money into countering it nationally because the loss to the Treasury must be huge every year.

“We need to have a full-time fraud investigation bureau with departments in every police force.”

Mr Stansfeld said fraud was on the rise because professional criminals were realising there was money to be made and the risk of being caught was low.

But he said it was often society’s most vulnerable that were falling victim, adding: “This is not a victimless crime. It ruins people’s lives. It is older people having their life savings stolen from them.”

Hairdressers at Popham in North Parade, Oxford, found themselves locked out of their computer system by a cyber attack last May.

The company had to replace the network and said they lost £15,000 worth of business.

Company director Shirley Popham said: “The police directed us to a fraud squad in London and they did nothing.

“They didn’t even call me back.”

Cyber crime prevention expert Ben Walker, of Witney-based firm UK Crime Reduction Service, said online crime was growing.

He said: “With the ever growing use of the internet through home computers and more recently smartphones, there is a parallel growth from those who attempt to steal information.”

Oxford East MP Andrew Smith urged people to take precautions.

He said: “With more and more shopping and banking being done online and through mobile phone apps, online security is becoming nearly as important as locking your back door.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “We are taking the fight to the fraudsters, with the new National Crime Agency (NCA) spearheading the crackdown.

“The NCA’s economic crime command will bring a single national focus to tackling fraud, working closely with other law enforcement bodies and the public, private and voluntary sectors.”

COMMON CONS

Dating fraud: Tricksters pretend to be the perfect partner and once they gain your trust they start asking for money

Lottery scam: Fraudsters contact you to say you have won a large amount of cash. But you have to hand over personal details to claim the prize

Miracle health scams: Fake cures and weight loss products will not work and could even be harmful

Account takeover: Can happen when a computer criminal poses as a customer before gaining control of an account and making unauthorised transactions.

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF

Cyber crime prevention tips from UK Crime Reduction Service’s Ben Walker:

  • Don’t click on links in suspicious emails
  • Treat your smartphone as a computer that is also prone to attacks
  • Keep personal information to yourself
  • Beware of public computers and free wifi s Buy only from reputable websites and look for “https” in the website address
  • Use credit cards, rather than debit cards, when making large purchases online
  • Check your accounts and your credit reports regularly
  • Choose a secure password. Pet names are rarely a good idea. Use a combination of upper and lower case, with symbols
  • Ensure you have an anti-virus product, and it is up to date.

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