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Scores arrested in Philippines over telephone scam linked to organised crime gangs

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telephone scam

Law enforcement officers in the Philippines have arrested scores of Taiwanese and Chinese nationals in connection with a sophisticated voice phishing scam.

Local media reported that more than 150 suspects were held in connection with the telecoms fraud, which involved Chinese victims being conned out of large sums of money from a call centre in the Southeast Asian country.

Philippine broadcaster ABS-CBN said the fraudsters contacted their prey pretending to prosecutors, police officers or some other form of public official, and then persuaded them to make a bank transfer to prevent the investigation of non-existent financial irregularities.

Victims were told that their mobile phone number had been linked to criminal activity, and that they could face prosecution if they failed to hand over the payments.

The operation that led to the arrests was the latest in a series of investigations into the activities of the organised criminal gangs that operate these types of scams in a number of countries, which often involve Taiwanese nationals.

Chinese and Taiwanese crime organisations behind phone fraud often use the money they make from these operations to fund other illicit activities, such as human trafficking, drugs smuggling and weapons dealing.

Keen to avoid the attention of law enforcement authorities in their home countries, phone fraud gangs regularly set up call centres in nations that have less stringent regulations.

While most of these are typically established in Southeast Asian countries, call centres have been discovered by police in countries such as Spain and Kenya.

The scams, which are thought to have cost Chinese consumers billions of yuan, have spawned a network of illicit outsourced industries that support the fraud gangs that carry them out, from hackers who harvest personal information to be used by callers, to mules happy to have dirty money paid into their accounts.

In some cases, victims are told they have been implicated in an investigation into illegal activities such as drug dealing, and that they must pay a fee to avoid being probed further and the possibility of being sent to jail.

One victim is known to have committed suicide after handing over a large payment to scammers, while another suffered a fatal heart attack when she realised she had been conned out of her university tuition fees.

Although illicit call centres set up to target Chinese consumers are regularly raided in various locations across the globe, those arrested in connection with their running are more often than not low-level operatives.

The leaders of the crime gangs that set them up often manage them at arm’s length, leaving them staffed by operators who are often in the countries in which they are based illegally.

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Airbnb expands anti-human trafficking partnership with US NGO Polaris

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Airbnb expands anti-human trafficking partnership

Airbnb has stepped up efforts to prevent rental properties being used by human traffickers by expanding its partnership with US anti-trafficking charity Polaris.

In February 2018, the online accommodation marketplace’s Global Head of Trust and Risk Management Nick Shapiro told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the website had joined forces with Polaris to stop traffickers who sexually exploit vulnerable women and girls from using the properties it rents out.

At the time, Shapiro said Airbnb would work with Polaris to stop its properties being used as “pop-up brothels”, and train members of its staff on how to spot the signs of modern slavery and human trafficking.

Now, having been faced with repeated criticism for failing to tackle human trafficking, Airbnb has announced that the partnership between the two organisations will be strengthened as they endeavour to eradicate trafficking crimes across the world.

The expanded tie-up will see Airbnb and Polaris offer enhanced training to Airbnb employees, property owners and guests, which will be provided both physically and online.

Airbnb said it has worked with Polaris, which aims to tackle and support the victims of sex and labour exploitation in North America, to establish a robust training curriculum for Airbnb’s customer support agents, and develop protocols to work with law enforcement agencies.

The two organisations have also designed new methods to better flag possible exploitation on Airbnb before it happens, and convened a range of companies and local anti-human trafficking experts to explore new areas of collaboration to strengthen the private sector’s efforts in combating trafficking.

As part of the new training, company employees, property owners and guests will learn about the cause of human trafficking, how to spot signs that exploitation may be taking place, and what action to take should they have any suspicions.

In a statement, Nancy McGuire Choi, CEO of Polaris, said: “Human trafficking is an incredibly complex issue that does not lend itself to quick and easy answers.

“The depth of Airbnb’s commitment is exactly what is necessary to make a real dent in the scope of this global tragedy.”

Last September, Airbnb unveiled a new online portal through which law enforcement officials can request information about users of the short-term property rental service.

The company said the portal was designed to complement the work it does daily to keep its property owners, guests and wider communities safe.

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ASEAN nations hit by data breaches, ransomware attacks and cryptojacking last year, Interpol says

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ASEAN nations hit by data breaches

Southeast Asia experienced “significant” levels of cyber crime in 2019, including major data breaches, crippling ransomware attacks and a huge rise in cryptojacking, according to a new report from Interpol.

In its ASEAN Cyberthreat Assessment 2020, the International law enforcement agency revealed that the region saw an increase in botnet detections and the hosting of Command and Control (C2) servers in the first half of last year.

Interpol also said phishing campaigns increased in both quantity and sophistication, using advanced social engineering techniques.

Data obtained by Interpol’s private partners for the report showed that the region suffered 5% of global business email compromise (BEC) attacks, with Singapore and Malaysia recording the highest BEC cases of all ASEAN countries (54% and 20%, respectively).

Over the first half of last year, Southeast Asia saw a 50% rise in banking malware attacks compared to the whole of 2018, with prominent malware families such as the Emotet16 banking Trojan shifting from banking credential theft to the distribution business.

Elsewhere, the increasing popularity of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin resulted in the rise of crypto-ransomware and cryptojacking, the latter of which involves hackers exploiting unsuspecting computer users’ processing power and bandwidth to mine virtual currency after infiltrating their systems using purpose-built malware.

The Interpol ASEAN Cybercrime Operations Desk concluded its report by vowing to enhance cyber crime intelligence for effective responses to cyber crime in the region, strengthen cooperation for joint operations against cyber crime, and develop regional capacity and capabilities to combat cyber crime.

Commenting on the contents of the report, Interpol’s Director of Cyber Crime Craig Jones said: “In today’s highly digitalised world, the sooner countries are aware of a threat, the sooner they can take steps to mitigate the risk and minimise the cyber threats coming from all directions.

“To this end, we encourage law enforcement in all countries to be actively engaged in collective efforts against these threats, particularly through sharing intelligence and the formulation of a joint operation framework to effectively reduce the global impact of cybercrime.”

In January, Interpol teamed up with several Southeast Asian law enforcement agencies to crack down on cryptojacking.

They used intelligence obtained from police and partners in the cyber security industry to identify a global cryptojacking campaign facilitated by hackers in the region through the exploitation of a vulnerability in MikroTik routers.

Interpol’s Operation Goldfish Alpha also sought to raise awareness of what is a relatively unknown crime in the region, and teach local law enforcement agencies how to deal with it effectively.

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Spanish police discover subterranean counterfeit cigarette factory near Costa del Sol

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subterranean counterfeit cigarette factory

Police in Spain have raided an underground illicit cigarette factory run by a British organised crime network.

In an operation supported by Europol and law enforcement agencies from countries including Lithuania, Poland and Britain, investigators found the subterranean bunker close to the Costa del Sol, rescuing six Eastern European modern slaves who had been forced by the gang to work and sleep at the facility.

The factory, which had been built nearly four metres underground, is said to have been capable of producing illicit cigarettes at the rate of 3,500 every hour.

Police said the workers they found at the factory had effectively been “left to die” after suspects arrested above the ground turned off the system that provided them with clean air in order to hide the bunker from law enforcement agents attending the site.

In total, 20 suspected members of the gang thought to be responsible for the factory were arrested in the operation, including a Briton who is said to have been on the run from authorities in the UK after failing to return to prison while on temporary release while serving a sentence linked to drug and forgery offences.

Thirteen separate locations were raided by police in the operation.

These raids resulted in the seizure of more than one million counterfeit cigarettes, 20kgs of herbal cannabis, 144kgs of marijuana, three weapons, eight GPS tracking devices, and a jamming device that the network likely used to help its members avoid the attention of police.

Investigators said the counterfeit cigarettes the gang made in its underground bunker were produced in unsanitary conditions and consisted of low-quality ingredients and components.

Detectives were forced to use a forklift truck to move a shipping container that was concealing the entrance of the underground facility.

In a statement, Spain’s Guardia Civil said most of the suspects arrested were British citizens, including the alleged 30-year-old ringleader of the conspiracy, who was identified only by the initials DD.

Another of the detainees, identified only as AR, was said to have been a Lithuanian national listed as having fled from justice in his home country while wanted in relation to smuggling offences.

In a statement relating to its involvement in the operation, Europol said: “Europol facilitated the information exchange between the participating countries, provided coordination support and analysed operational information against Europol’s databases to give leads to investigators.

“Europol also provided on-the-spot operational support by deploying two analysts to Malaga, Spain, to provide real-time analytical support.”

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