January 2024 ~ The ‘art’ of test purchasing . . . how to hook the crook!
Using well-tested skills established during law-enforcement service, IPFGB has developed an ability to build credible and robust legends in order to penetrate target organisations involved in illicit trading. Over a period in excess of two decades, this evidence-gathering formula in the test-purchasing arena has repeatedly succeeded where others tend to fail.
It may appear simple to tempt a rogue trader with a bundle of cash in a face-to-face approach, but the relatively inexpensive exercise of remote purchasing requires an art, whether online or by phone. Over twenty years of experience has taught us that a fraudster’s first concern is whether he will be paid. It is essential to understand, therefore, that what is presented as an identity, or “legend”, may be robustly checked with regard to financial status. IPFGB lawfully maintains a number of “cover” identities located around the UK which have physical addresses, contact details, and bank facilities, so enabling instant trade in order to obtain evidence of fraudulent activity. There is often the added bonus of establishing the banking information of targets prior to litigation or law enforcement action. We also maintain cryptocurrency accounts which add to our arsenal.
Merchandise as diverse as IT hardware, software, vehicle parts, machinery, pharmaceuticals, plastics, designer clothing, handbags . . . the list is endless, and IPFGB has bought them all; regularly succeeding in bringing organised fraudsters and counterfeiters to book.
January 2024 ~ Fraud investigation: Decades of “de-prioritisation”
“There needs to be a drastic and significant shift in the way that policing and relevant partners better prioritise the response to fraud, economic crime, and cybercrime at a local, regional and national level.” These are the words of Pete O’Doherty, the temporary Commissioner of the City of London Police, published in Policing Insight, the organ of the independently run CoPaCC.
His remarks were reported following the publication of a 5-year CoLP strategy to tackle economic and cybercrime, which recognised “a decade of deprioritising fraud” compared to other crime. Our experience would contend that the rot started right at the beginning of this century. Whilst grabbing headlines that the police would in future concentrate only on street crime, the true motive of the Home Office at that time was to reign in autonomous Chief Constables. And so, in the early noughties, we saw a change in Key Performance Indicators, with a stark downgrading of crimes against business. Overnight, provincial Fraud Squads began to close. As outside investigators, we immediately discovered officers would refuse to take on commercial crime, even when cases with sound evidence of guilt were referred to them by capable investigation firms. The thinly veiled philosophy was that business could afford to look after itself. The truth was more pertinent; fraud failed to tick the KPI boxes, without which the provincial forces would lose funding. Those business victims turned away from a blatantly indifferent British law enforcement system to concentrate on protecting interests by means of civil action, or in extreme cases, moving operations overseas. As the provincial forces de-skilled trained officers, and fraud investigation was removed from training programs completely, so within time, those forces realised they had actually become incapable of taking on the task. The circle was complete . . . they had lost both the will and the skill.
This new Fraud Strategy accepts that the system is broken. Further, that the volume of fraud presents a national security threat, inasmuch as it undermines public confidence in the rule of law, and has a negative effect on the UK’s financial reputation. In advocating a proactive as opposed to a reactive approach, Mr O’Doherty adds that he understands the need for a “drastic and significant shift in the way that policing and relevant partners better prioritise the response to fraud.” One could ask who these relevant partners might include. The professional investigation industry, perhaps? Because, during the past twenty-plus years, whilst policing has turned a blind eye to the staggering cost of fraud, [the estimated 2019-20 figure £6.8 billion in England and Wales alone], our industry has maintained both its skill levels and willingness to serve our clients.
[Article also published Association of British Investigators: News 01-Jan-24]
January 2024 ~ Overseas instructions: A “clear and present danger” to UK PIs.
If as a professional investigator you consider that hostile activity carried out on the world’s stage has little to do with your day-to-day management of assignments, then the following cautionary thoughts may change your mind.
December saw an escalation of alerts against overseas nations carrying out illicit operations on UK soil, highlighting an accusation that Iran planned the assassination of two journalists. And on Christmas Eve, our illustrious new Foreign Secretary also warned that we faced a “more aggressive, assertive China”. Coupled with the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, the prospects abound for headline-grabbing acts of violence, contrasted with secretive yet aggressive harassment of dissident nationals, all played out on Western turf.
Looking firstly at the Iranian case, it appears that plans were initially to car-bomb the intended victims outside their studio in London; later switching the elimination method to stabbing. The quoted fee offered to third-party people-traffickers by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps was USD200,000. The media claims to have uncovered the plot, reportedly confirmed by intelligence services. But let’s be more realistic. It is essentially more feasible that it was those services which covertly fed the story to ITV News, thereby securing bonus payment for their agent[s] within the smuggling fraternity. Whatever the truth behind the narrative, put yourself for a moment in the position of that people-smuggler, safely based in one of the six countries from which they habitually operate: Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, and Italy. Having been contracted to carry out the hit, I start to make my plans.
Q: How do I conduct an assassination in a foreign land, when I don’t have an accomplice within the target group?
A: I need good intelligence, which I can best obtain through surveillance.
Q: How do I overcome a lack of vital local knowledge of the topography where my targets live or work, or even the customs of the country? [In the Middle East, there must be an equivalent idiom to “Standing out like a sore thumb”!]
A: I employ a professional outfit, which is both competent and local, to do it for me.
Q: How do I find them?
A: I hear the ABI has a new website . . . I’ll tap in the postcode, make contact, and inform them of the generous budget available.
Q: The ABI member tells me they want to know my identity and be satisfied as to the reason for the instruction, so they can complete their Data Protection Impact Assessment. What do I do?
A: I have access to countless false passports and invent a plausible storyline.
Q: So, what is my “false flag” instruction?
A: Easy, it’s a domestic situation involving a cheating spouse, or an allegation of blackmail. I produce some fabricated emails.
Q: As I have contacted an experienced investigator who is continuing to follow ABI’s guidelines by justifying his “legitimate interest”, I am being overwhelmed with further searching questions and proof of document authenticity. Do I continue?
A: No, with the absence of control of the profession investigation industry in the UK, there are plenty of less-scrupulous outfits I can randomly find on the internet, and who will be willing to take my money.
This could never happen in the UK . . . could it? Well, yes. There are instances when such a scenario has occurred in the past, actually leading to the deaths of dissidents on the streets here. There is probably a similar “false flag” op being planned or actually happening at this very moment.
In mid-December, the US Congress Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] was discussing the “utilization [sic] of private investigators by the CCP”, including the case of Mike McMahon, the highly decorated former New York cop turned PI, convicted in June of a number of charges. He had effectively been assisting Chinese “Foxhunt” operations . . . state-sponsored surveillance, harassment and repression of Chinese diaspora in the US. According to his defence, he believed he was working for a Chinese translation company seeking redress in a fraud case.
Additionally, the US Department of Justice is pursuing a Chinese national, Lin Qiming, who attempted to hire a private investigator to uncover or manufacture damaging information on another Chinese, resident in the States.
In the US, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center and the FBI have been actively warning PIs against falling into this trap.
We have previously reported on this platform that in 2021, IPFGB received a request to locate a number of Chinese nationals working in the UK; ostensibly ‘head-hunting’ them for lucrative employment. Applying the legitimate interest test, we insisted we were provided with sufficient data to satisfy us that the approach was warranted. The potential client evaporated, probably offering up the instruction elsewhere.
There’s still time to make a New Year’s resolution. Especially if that new instruction emanates from abroad, either directly or indirectly, make sure your legitimate interest is sound.
[Article also published Association of British Investigators: News 05-Jan-24]