The Impact of the Pandemic on Fraud – Police and Ex-Criminals review their predictions, one year on

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, We Fight Fraud (WFF), a unique team of leading experts in fraud and financial crime prevention, produced a first of its kind ‘live’ conference that considered the impact of the pandemic on fraud and financial crime. Leading law enforcers, subject experts and ex-criminals joined together to help protect the public and business, making a number of predictions in the process. The event was globally embraced by those involved in all forms of security (not just cyber) and so popular that they will be holding the conference again on the 28th April 2021 to review the past year and look ahead. We Fight Fraud Live is a unique opportunity for businesses to gain insights into criminal behaviour that cannot be found anywhere else.

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The team behind WeFightFraud will all be speaking and available for questions once again including:

  • Tony Sales – Tony was dubbed ‘Britain’s most successful fraudster’ by the media. He now provides advice to some of the world’s leading brands on their fraud and loss prevention strategies and is a TV regular on BBC’s Watchdog and Channel 5’s Nailing the Fraudsters among other shows.
  • Andy McDonald – Andy was formerly Head of Specialist Investigations at SO15 Counter Terrorism Command, and UK National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit (NTFIU). He was previously head of the Metropolitan Police Fraud Squad at New Scotland Yard. With over 30 years in detective roles, Andy is a leading financial crime and risk management expert, advising a wide array of global organisations.
  • Solomon Gilbert –The last bank Solomon broke into took him less than 12 hours. From an early age, Solomon was fascinated by puzzles, which led him to engage in cybercrime, until his arrest and expulsion from school aged 17. After that, his goal became cyber-crime prevention. He has worked with the National Crime Agency, Home Office, regional police forces, and private enterprises.  He was recognised as a Young Digital Leader of the Year in 2018 and sat on the Parliamentary Commission for Autism.

This year, LexisNexis® Risk Solutions are lead sponsors. Ellie Burns, a Fraud and Identity specialist explains why; “Lockdown has had a profound impact on the ways consumers access goods and services, with the influx of new-to-digital-users creating fresh opportunities for fraudsters – be it credential stuffing, social engineering attacks or money mules. In order to keep pace with the constantly shifting cybercrime landscape, we must come together to share trends, insights and knowledge. We Fight Fraud Live is a unique opportunity to do exactly that and we are delighted to be involved.”

At WFF Live 2020, the team predicted that, just as the crisis would create a spike in innovation in business, this would be matched by criminals. Tony Sales warned that fraudsters would take full advantage of the way that the ‘normal’ rules no longer applied to communication, particularly from official sources such as the Government, the National Health Service (NHS) and banks. He predicted a rise in fraudsters imitating these bodies, by jumping onto text chains, for example, to get people to engage.

Tony Sales explained; “People are confused, insecure and fearful which makes them more susceptible to fraud through social engineering. At the same time, stuck on furlough or away from education, geniuses with time on their hands will see fraud as an exciting challenge.”

The ‘dark figure’ of crime means that fraud is underrepresented in crime statistics. However, the steep rise in fraud reported since the pandemic began has led to general consensus by industry experts that an 80% rise in fraud, as a direct result of the pandemic, is a conservative estimate. One of the many instances of fraudsters taking advantage of the changed landscape, has been in the vaccination scams, where people have been tricked into supplying personal details, such as their account number and sort code to try to obtain a vaccine only available through the NHS.

Solomon Gilbert predicted that the increase in online use by people such as the elderly, who are not tech savvy, and the very young, who can be blasé about the dangers, would create a dramatic rise in opportunities for criminals. In addition, people would be relying on central cloud storage in a way that they hadn’t before. Solomon warned that, knowing how reliant everyone had become on cloud-based services, made them a primary target for malicious hackers.

Alarmingly this prediction quickly proved true and arguably the most devastating of the attacks last year impacted on one of the most popular and trusted cloud service Google. In December Google warned of a potential data breach in Gmail following the service suffering an outage for around 40 minutes. The potential for anyone who was able to access this service is huge as it would give them access to YouTube, Google Meet, Hangouts, Google Maps, Google Docs, Google Drive and Google Calendar. 

Tony Sales commented; “We’ve looked back at the recordings of all the speakers and their predictions were spot on. It’s not something I say with any pleasure, behind those headlines are some tragic stories. The ones that I find most upsetting are the elderly paying for fake vaccines. However, from a global impact perspective some of these breaches could well continue to have cataphoric consequences for years to come.”

The 2021 online conference will be an opportunity to share important intelligence from both sides of the law. To book a seat at the free conference go to www.wefightfraud.org/live. There are also sponsorship opportunities still available. The virtual conference will be sending delegate packs to 500 people registering to attend from the industry and the media. These will include offers and goods.

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About the Author: Michael O'Sullivan