News from 2018

December 2018 ~ organised and serious crime groups thriving

Crime groups in the UK are costing the country at least £37 billion a year, according to the National Crime Agency; whilst admitting that much remains ‘hidden or unreported.’ Around 4600 serious and organised crime groups are operating, many of which exploit the simplified manner in which companies may now be set up. In the interests of ‘data protection’, fraudulent company appointees may hide their home addresses behind the ever-increasing number of virtual addresses, whilst the very same legislation allows those profiting from the service to protect criminals by refusing to cooperate with fraud investigators.

Many of those organised crime groups target British business, but it seems that law enforcement stands at the ready. The National Business Crime Centre, an arm of the Police which carries the strapline, “reducing crime through partnership and prevention”, is now entering its second year. Whilst the rest of the police service has been stripped to the bone, there has been no reduction in the staffing level at NBCC. It remains constant at . . . . four!

November 2018 ~ Countering IP theft

As a rule, theft of Intellectual Property and other commercial data is not investigated by law enforcement in the UK. Try reporting it to the Police and it will fail routinely at the first hurdle. There was one instance of the ICO taking action, (see June 2016 report in this News section), where an employee stole data from his company which was clearly of benefit to a new employer. He was merely fined £300; an reflection on how grave, or otherwise, the court considered the matter. Whilst individuals convince themselves they are doing nothing wrong, perhaps reinforced by a belief that no one will bring them to account, the problem risks becoming epidemic.

In the US, there is a greater disposition to protecting business interests. Five individuals have been charged with conspiracy to steal trade secrets from the pharmaceutical giant, GSK. Employees were routinely downloading material and transferring it to their personal email accounts. The company which was benefitting from the leaks was backed by the Chinese Government and a Chinese intelligence officer has been extradited to the US to face charges. In addition, in the past month alone, there have been three other high-profile industrial espionage cases initiated in criminal courts.

Whilst UK law enforcement looks the other way, by far the best reaction here should be swift, full-on civil action striving to achieve punitive settlements and legal-binding agreements to cease such activity. There are specialist law-firms who will take on these crooks and, more importantly, hit (and hit hard) the dishonest companies who believe that receiving the benefits of stolen trade secrets is simply good business.

At IPFGB, we have for many years worked in close cooperation with one of these specialist London-based law-firms. A client approached us to report that highly sensitive commercial data was being systematically leaked to rival companies by employees working in concert, preparatory to switching pay-master. The activity was naturally highly damaging to the victim company, which we introduced to the law-firm. Over the past few weeks. working in conjunction with the lawyers to a planned strategy, IPFGB has employed well-tested investigative methods, including forensic analysis of IT, in order to provide conclusive evidence of the activity. Search orders were executed, further evidence gleaned, and settlements are currently being negotiated.

October 2018 ~ Cyber-attacks . . . “A Damned Serious Business”!

You will find Gerald Seymour’s latest novel, “A Damned Serious Business” on the fiction shelf,” says Dick Smith, “but it is abundantly clear that his meticulous research and inside-Government sources have enabled him to produce a frighteningly factual theme. Cyber-attacks on the West from Russian state-sponsored ‘black-hats’ are a daily occurrence and, not least due to GDPR, we are making life easier for them. Emptying poorly-guarded bank accounts might be the initial reward for those organised crime bosses in Moscow, but operating under the control of the Kremlin, their ability to shut down our infrastructure becomes the real fear.

The attacks on FedEx and the NHS last year were prime examples of the capabilities of those wishing to destabilise the West. At least 16 UK Health Services were hit by ‘Wanna Decryptor’ which closed GP surgeries and hospital operating theatres; all of whom were either using the unsupported Windows XP platform or failing to install updates. You can’t blame Microsoft; they had repeatedly cautioned customers to update their systems.

Ransomware is a form of malicious software and is used to encrypt computer files, locking the computer until a financial ransom is paid.

So what to do?

  • Back up all your files to a system stored remotely from your computer; (beware, some ransomware can also infect your cloud-based storage).
  • Keep your internet security software up-to-date.
  • Never click on links or attachments in suspicious emails or text messages.
  • Only visit websites you know to be reputable.
  • Ensure you have effective and updated antivirus software and firewall running before you go online.”

September 2018 ~ Cold-calling ban in force

It is hoped that the new Financial Guidance and Claims Act banning claims management companies (CMCs) from making unsolicited phone calls will, for example, “reduce the number of fraudulent holiday sickness claims made against tour operators,” reports ABTA. The move will undoubtedly reduce the number of fake claims, which rose 500% between 2013 and 2016.

According to the FCA, in the past year Britons received 2.7 billion unsolicited calls, emails or texts offering them help making a claim. These will have included PPI and the dreaded ‘recent road accident’. People will now be given the choice to opt in to receiving calls offering to settle personal injury claims. Previously, it was necessary to opt out by registering with the Telephone Preference Service or withdraw their consent while on the phone.

Now, companies making such calls must ensure they have the recipient’s permission before the conversation. Fines for breaching the rules could be as high as £500,000.

“Unscrupulous lawyers have unquestionably been behind many of these operations,” said Dick Smith, “paying CMCs for signing up ‘victims’. At IPFGB, our investigations into the ‘road-accident claim’ industry have revealed how individuals have been handsomely rewarded; being encouraged to commit criminal acts in harvesting and selling personal data. Just look at how many police personnel have been imprisoned in recent years just for this offence! Sadly, the criminal investigations have only picked off the fall-guys; failing to drill down to the dodgy lawyers in the background who have made the fortunes.”

Ina a bid to tackle claims fraud, ABTA has called for improved links between the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA). It has also suggested that legal firms pursuing claims should have to name their data sources.

It is now illegal for solicitors to pay a ‘referral fee’ to companies who steer claimants their way. ABTA suspects that such fees still occur but that enhanced transparency will make the practice easier to spot and prevent.

August 2018 ~ Private Investigators’ role in counterfeit arrests

Last week, five individuals in New York were arrested following the seizure of counterfeit ‘Nike’ training shoes valued at around $70m. They have been charged with importing hundreds of thousands of shoes from China and later adding counterfeit Nike trademark logos. A private investigation firm embarked on a 32-month operation having learned of the importation and alerted Nike. The results of surveillance and test purchasing carried out by the PIs led to law enforcement being informed and the arrests made.

“This trend of importing ‘naked’ goods into the west has been the norm for some years,” said Greg Smith at IPFGB. “It contrasts with a previous era when counterfeit labelling occurred at source and risked the product being seized at port. ‘Sweatshop’ factories, where labelling is occurring, operate across the country. This type of anti-counterfeit distribution operation is precisely what we have been conducting in the UK for many years, bringing in some spectacular results along the way.”

July 2018 ~ Private prosecution gets fraudster 8 years in prison

London law-firm, Mishcon de Reya, has successfully run a private criminal prosecution against a fraudster; a case which CPS had declined to take.  The crook has gone to jail for 8 years.

What is quite significant here,” said IPFGB ‘s Dick Smith, “is that MdR first had their success in the civil courts and then ran the prosecution.   

In the past, criminal investigations have invariably taken precedence over civil cases, to the point that the civil proceedings were effectively put on hold whilst the police got on with their job.  The case would go through the criminal courts and the villains duly despatched.  Only then would the civil case go ahead. The fact that there was a conviction would weigh heavily in favour of the victim’s financial settlement; (judges applying rarely applying compensation despite having powers within criminal law).  

If the fraudster were to be acquitted, however, then that could adversely affect the resulting civil case.  The decision had then to be made as to whether to proceed.  The burden of proof is naturally greater in criminal courts than it is with their civil counterparts, so the risk of initially reporting to the police and perhaps getting a ‘not guilty’ verdict, (or indeed a botched investigation and failure to prosecute), could seriously influence some civil lawyers in their decision-making.  

At IPFGB,” continued Dick, “we have been fortunate to have worked alongside MdR lawyers for many years. They are often at the forefront of cutting-edge court procedure.  What has clearly happened here, however, is that the goalposts have moved.  The justice system in general seems to have accepted that getting law enforcement and CPS to get on with what is supposed to be their whole raison d’être is nowadays so remote that lawyers may see ‘civil-route first’ a way to consider.”

For more details, see here:

June 2018 ~ Hungarians seek help of Brit PIs

In 2017, at the invitation of the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior, the Association of British Investigators (ABI) supported the EU umbrella body, Internationale Kommission der Detektiv-Verbände (IKD), by appearing before a delegation of stakeholders in the PI sector. It included the Minister, his deputy and other officials. The purpose was to advise on good practice policies, data protection and investigative methodologies which the Hungarian government were considering when implementing the new licensing regime for investigations in the private sector.

The value of ABI’s input was clearly considered by the Hungarian government to be sufficient to repeat the invitation to once more appear before officials; this time seeking the Association’s advice on the effects of GDPR. “The ABI has been at the forefront of meeting the new Data Protection Act head-on, said the President, Dick Smith. “For over a year we have been preparing our members to ensure compliance by themselves and their clients. We are even finding law firms and legal departments within commercial enterprise seeking our advice on many aspects of the new legislation, not least the safe transmission of personal data.”

June 2018 ~ Are we really moving towards regulation?

A recent news item on the radio featured an interview with the ABI in which we continued with our call for sensible regulation. As a result, the Home Office sent the BBC this statement: ”The Government is clear that firms in the private intelligence industry must operate within the law and is committed to ensuring the integrity of the private security industry. Regulation of the private security industry was included within the scope of the review of the Security Industry Authority in 2016, which sought evidence from the industry. Once the findings of the review have been published, the Government will carefully consider any recommendations in relation to private investigators.”

The Home Office duly published its Review,” said Dick Smith, President of the ABI. “We have noted the recommendations as regard the investigation sector.  The ABI has consistently supported both the Home Office and the SIA in this long, long road to regulation. The Association has placed its officers at their disposal to assist as called on.  We understand a panel is being formed to consider how best to implement the Review’s recommendations and the ABI hopes it will be able to play a part in the process.”

May 2018 ~ Dick Smith ~ inaugurated President of ABI

At a ceremony at the Grand Hotel in Brighton on the weekend, Dick Smith was inaugurated President of the Association of British Investigators. At the splendid banquet, which accompanied the formalities, guests of honour were the Mayor of Brighton and her consort, and top-selling crime-writer, Peter James and his delightful wife, Lara. Peter succeeded the late Colin Dexter as patron of the ABI.

May 2018 ~ Sometime the Police need a reminder of the law!

We received a cold-call approach from a member of the public wishing to trace someone who had been loaned a valuable classic vehicle by a family member. The individual had failed to return it and disappeared; meantime registering it in their own name at an address at which they did not live. Having reported it to the Police, the loser was told it was a civil matter. Very much outside our normal sphere of operations, we nevertheless put a plan of action together, but strongly advised the loser to return to the Police, reminding them in no uncertain terms the definition of “appropriate” (s3 Theft Act 1968), with regard to assuming the rights of the owner. We received this response from the loser: “Result indeed! I now have a crime reference number and will be hearing from an officer to discuss what to do next. Many thanks for reiterating to me that it should be a police matter. I shall definitely pass your comments on to the officer about the plan of action when I meet them. Thanks again for all your advice and work you’ve put into this case so far. If I need the services of private investigators, I certainly know who to call.”

April 2018 ~ “300 Police officers on a merry-go-round”

“Violent crime is the flavour of the month for the press, the politicians and the police,” said Dick Smith, President Elect of the Association of British Investigators. “So three hundred officers have been specially drafted in to tackle it, according to the Home Secretary. But these officers have not been produced from a magic top hat. They have been dragged away from investigations which last month were deemed important but this month, due to press pressure, are less so! A couple of years ago, when the papers were highlighting the fact that fraud was now of epidemic proportions, the Met announced ‘Operation Falcon’ would combat that particular facet of criminal behaviour. How many officers were brought in? Three hundred. And so the merry-go-round goes round!”

Dick was addressing West Country businessmen concerned that counterfeit goods which are freely available on the internet are hitting the sales of High Street retailers. “For some years now, the police have considered counterfeit distribution to be outside their remit. ‘That’s a Trading Standards problem,’ they’ll tell you. But Trading Standards departments have been decimated in recent years on a par with the police.

“It’s a sad fact that law enforcement will not help you. Put faith in the brands you are selling. I can assure you that most are investing heavily in trying to protect their intellectual property rights. Here at IPFGB, we work in conjunction with a number of multi-national companies doing just that. We identify the UK-based fake-goods distributors, obtaining evidence via under-cover test-purchase programmes. Armed with our results, the rights holders take down sites and instigate civil action against the individuals; hitting them in the pockets.

“Counterfeiting is not a victimless crime. The job-loss count alone is astronomical. Some countries do take the matter seriously, however. Earlier this month Dubai’s Department of Economic Development carried out a crackdown on counterfeit items in one of the city’s less glamorous neighbourhoods, Karama. 7,000 items worth around £100,000 were seized in a day from shops behind which secondary stores are accessed through secret doors.”

Follow the DED inspectors on this step-by-step raid through the market in this video, courtesy Khaleej Times.

March 2018 ~ only one in six frauds reported in England & Wales!

Fraud is currently estimated to have an annual cost to UK business of over £140bn. It is a fact that the Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates that only 17% of fraud comes to the attention of the police or Action Fraud; suggesting that five out of six victims have no confidence in modern-day law enforcement.

March 2018 ~ in rare defence of police ‘inaction’!

Reporting Police inefficiency and ineptitude these days has sadly become the norm and the ‘horror stories’ of blunt refusal to investigate crime continues to come to our ears on a daily basis. However, the recent court decision to allow a victim to sue a police force for failing to do their duty might, just might, concentrate the bean-counters of law-enforcement, who are undoubtedly behind these decisions, to think twice before they incentivise their officers for saving money in deliberately downgrading or even totally writing off reports of crime.

Politicians, press and feminist groups have pressured police for years to bring more charges of rape and some would say it has led almost to a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ situation. The recent high-profile collapse of a rape case where the police were heavily criticised for allowing a phone which contained text messages suggesting the victim was eager to engage in rough sex to remain unexamined come to mind. It now transpires, however, that the phone in question was not that of the alleged rapist but actually that of the victim. (We all secretly know, of course, that the real reason the phone was not sent for examination was cost, but we wouldn’t want to mention that when there’s an overworked detective who can be hung out to dry!) But the cruncher is the further revelation that the messages in question were not between the victim and the suspect, but between the victim and a third party!

How would the police have found that data unless they had scrutinised the private affairs of the victim as opposed to her relationship with the alleged aggressor? A question comes screamingly to mind . . . . . what power had the police to seize (let alone examine) the phone in the first place? But let’s expand on that a little further. If it becomes necessary, in the interests of justice, to delve into the lifestyle of the victim, (irrespective of the extra responsibilities ~ and cost ~ this would put on the prosecution), will victims still be able to exercise their rights to refuse consent to examination of their IT devices? And will rape charges not be brought unless the victim gives consent to such intrusion? Whatever the answers, in the eyes of the politicians and the press, there’s no doubt the police will continue to be at fault!

March 2018 ~ “The Darkweb can be a scary place”

“Don’t go there unless you know what you are doing,” says Greg Smith. “Consider very carefully before venturing into the unknown. We at IPFGB regularly and discreetly launch attacks against Darkweb distributors of counterfeit goods and nine times out of ten return great results for our clients. Strategic action of IP rights holders working alongside law enforcement means that the Darkweb can no longer be claimed as the exclusive domain of criminals,” he said.

“Naturally, in an effort to remain anonymous, our targets deal anonymously in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin,” continued Greg. “You’ll get more than your fair share of crooks involved in the altcoin business with new scams being created all the time, so care has to be taken when setting up accounts. The problem is that you cannot audit what is going on behind the scenes, so if you do purchase, get them out of the exchange and into a wallet soonest. The smaller altcoins are very susceptible to ‘pump and dump’ schemes, so another reason to be cautious. Do your due diligence!

One of IPFGB‘s clients is a London law-firm which specialises in helping those who have suffered cryptocurrency fraud.

(Footnote: In 2014, IPFGB was instrumental in tracking down ‘the man who ruined Dogecoin,’ subsequently sentenced to four years imprisonment.)

February 2018 ~ GDPR . . . civil servants and scammers to benefit!

The Treasury has admitted that the ICO will be allowed to throw off the shackles of austerity. Public Pay Sector restrictions are being abandoned to allow the Information Commissioner to employ sufficient new staff to enforce this new piece of European legislation, which is already set to cost British industry millions in complying with the new red tape. But who else will benefit? It seems that the simple “WHOIS” tool, which since the creation of the internet has enabled anyone to look up the contact details for the owner of a domain name, will soon be in breach of the law. So criminals who produce fake websites will be provided with yet another handy piece of armour, all in the name of data protection, to assist them in progressing their fraudulent and ever-more-profitable onslaught on Joe Public!

February 2018 ~ Investigators keen to comply with GDPR

Over 120 delegates attended the Association of British Investigators (ABI) seminar in London and the feedback was very positive. GDPR compliance is a daunting prospect but those who attended went away with the feel-good factor that even for micro businesses, the ABI model makes meeting the requirements relatively painless.  To quote one delegate: “I went from knowing very little to being confident in what to do.”

January 2018 ~ Beware 25th May 2018 . . . . . GDPR is coming!

“We’ve known about GDPR for nearly two years,” writes Dick Smith, “but officialdom in the UK seems to have had other things on its mind and has been unwilling to engage with various business sectors; not least the investigation industry which will likely be heavily impacted. Simply publishing a set of EU commandments is as far as Government Departments have ventured. Once more, we are seeing administrative procrastination on yet another matter effecting livelihoods and export potential. We in the sector are doing our best to address the forthcoming legislation; necessarily employing legal minds to forecast how the industry wheels can continue to turn despite yet more brake-pads being applied!”