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UK intelligence agencies crack down on fraud techniques

As part of ministers' attempt to stop financial scams, which are expected to cost the UK over £7BN (€7.9BN) each year, British intelligence services will step up efforts to "identify and disrupt" foreign fraudsters.

UK intelligence agencies crack down on fraud techniques

The British government today launched a nationwide fraud strategy in addition to outlining efforts to crack down on scammers' usual methods of attack.

"Fraud is a blight on our country," said Home Secretary Suella Braverman on Tuesday in advance of the strategy's announcement, and it is "vital we adopt a new approach to this threat."

To stop scams at the source, the intelligence agencies will collaborate with 400 new police investigators, local forces, and international partners.

The National Cyber Security Centre, a division of GCHQ's signals intelligence organization, is believed to have handled 2.1 million phishing attempts and other frauds aimed at consumers and small businesses in 2012. According to the NCSC, there were 2.7 million cyber-related frauds in 2022.

Other efforts include working with Ofcom, the media regulator, on cutting-edge technology to stop number spoofing, which occurs when scammers call victims using the phone numbers of reputable organizations.

The new anti-fraud plan includes introducing a new 400-person investigative body and a ban on cold calls marketing financial products, including phony cryptocurrency schemes, in an effort to better safeguard the public from con artists.

The government announced in a statement that fraud was now the most frequent crime in Britain, costing close to £7 billion ($8.72 billion) year and harming one in 15 people.

The new plan is supported by a fresh 30 million pound public investment, which was welcomed with caution by a key consumer rights organisation.

"Scammers ruin lives in seconds," declared Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. "By blocking scams at the source, boosting protections for people and bolstering enforcement, we will stop more of these cold-hearted crimes from happening in the first place."

The government said that it was collaborating with Ofcom, the nation's communications watchdog, to crack down on "number spoofing," the practice of callers impersonating someone else.

According to the statement, additional efforts to prohibit the criminal use of such technology include a restriction on techniques for simultaneously communicating with large numbers of individuals and an investigation into bulk texting services.

While consumer advocacy group Which? praised the plan but criticized the government for not acting sooner, the opposition Labour Party criticized the strategy as being "too little, too late."

According to a statement from Which?, "the fight against fraud has progressed far too slowly in recent years and in particular more action is needed to guarantee that big tech platforms take serious action against fraud."

The new national fraud team, according to the government, would take the place of current services and revamp how crimes are investigated using a "proactive, intelligence-led approach."

The government calculated that over two thirds of fraud in Britain either originates abroad or has an international connection, and Home Secretary Suella Braverman announced she will host a global fraud summit to encourage cross-border cooperation.

According to those familiar with the situation, the strategy was supposed to be released in February but was postponed when numerous Whitehall departments voiced their reservations about ideas to require businesses to compensate victims of online financial frauds.

Ministers have since abandoned that strategy and will instead reveal a voluntary agreement with the tech sector in which platforms agree to adopt a more proactive strategy to reduce online fraud.

The "joined-up approach" of the campaign was applauded by Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at the consumer rights group Which?, but warned that "more action" was required "to guarantee that big tech platforms take serious action against fraud."

"Ultimately, consumers will judge the success of this strategy by whether they end up with better fraud detection, prevention, support and redress," she said.

The performance of Action Fraud, the national fraud reporting agency, has been criticized. Ministers have confirmed that a replacement will be operational by the end of this year.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, responded to the government's statement on Tuesday by calling fraud "a pernicious crime" and claiming that the government's proposal was "too little, too late, and fails to match the scale of the problem."

Using the intelligence community is "absolutely the right approach to take," according to Helena Wood, co-head of the UK Economic Crime Programme at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), who also noted that this will be "focusing more on disrupting the problem than trying to arrest our way out of it."

The strategy was postponed until February, reportedly due to concerns voiced by Whitehall departments regarding ideas to require businesses to recompense fraud victims.



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