Law enforcement agencies and anti-fraud bodies across the globe spend a great deal of time and effort attempting to educate members of the public about phone fraud. Despite this, incidents involving consumers being scammed in these types of plots remain relatively high, even though people are routinely warned not to hand over any personal or financial information when they are cold called. In the majority of cases, anybody who deals with their finances online or uses telephone banking services will have come across multiple warnings regarding the potential perils of inadvertently handing over their passwords or agreeing with a cold caller to have money paid into a holding account in the event of an alleged fraud. Consequently, it can sometimes be difficult to have sympathy for people who allow themselves to be conned in these circumstances. It can be a different story however when a fraudster calls up pretending to be from a government agency.
The majority of people will have had at least some experience of dealing with the financial institutions with which they have relationships over the phone, often to the degree that they would be able to tell if something were amiss if they were called by a fraudster pretending to be from any such firm. Conversely, far fewer members of the public are used to routinely dealing with government agencies that might have reason to contact them, and would likely be less than familiar with what to expect from a call from somebody purporting to be a public official. This is a fact that phone fraudsters are able to take full advantage of.
At the beginning of this month, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revealed that complaints to its Consumer Sentinel Network about government imposter scams reached record levels this spring. The consumer protection agency noted an increase in the number of phone scams that involved fraudsters pretending to be from official agencies such as the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service or some other government department. In May alone, the FTC said it received around 46,600 complaints relating to this type of fraud, and noted that some victims are being threatened with arrest if they refuse to hand over fictitious back-tax payments. In some cases, fraudsters are using sophisticated “number spoofing” technology that makes it look to victims as though they are calling from official government phone lines. Some scammers are even demanding that victims hand over their payment in the form of gift cards, which the FTC said should be the perfect giveaway that a fraud is taking place.
Meanwhile in the UK, the BBC last week revealed that organised scammers are taking advantage of loopholes in the British government’s new Universal Credit welfare system to profit from plunging jobless people into debt. The fraudsters approach unemployed people while pretending to be government workers and offer to help them apply for welfare benefits. After taking down their personal and banking information, the scammers apply for emergency loans in the names of their victims, taking the money and leaving the benefit claimants they target laden with the subsequent debt. The BBC found that the criminal networks behind the scam are using social media to attract victims, setting up Facebook pages with titles such as Gov Grants Same Day, Same Day Grant, Discretionary Budgeting Grant and Same Day Grant Payment. In a separate scam, fraudsters are contacting UK taxpayers by phone and threatening them with legal action or even jail if they fail to hand over on-the-spot fines of many thousands of pounds.
Chinese nationals are routinely targeted in these types of scams, with organised criminal networks operating illegal call centres in multiple locations around the world dedicated to contacting potential victims who originate from China. In some cases, these gangs have been known to call people they have already targeted in past scams while posing as police officers in order to convince them to hand over more money under the pretence that a payment is required before an investigation into the previous fraud can be launched. Just this week, police in Australia issued a warning about a telephone fraud conspiracy targeting the country’s Chinese community, particularly international students. In several “complex social engineering fraud and telephone scams”, the criminal networks behind these extortion plots call potential victims pretending to be from a range of official agencies. In one particularly sad example of the way phone fraudsters target Chinese nationals, it was reported back in 2016 that a prospective university student from Shandong province had died of a heart attack after she was conned out of her tuition fees. Fraudsters contacted the 18-year-old pretending to be from the “education ministry” and convinced her to transfer the money to a bank account under their control.
In many cases, people who fall victim to scams such as these will stand little chance of getting their money back, leaving them facing significant financial hardship. The sad reality of the matter is though, that while law enforcement agencies do all they can to raise awareness of this type of phone fraud, the scammers who perpetrate it will continue to profit all the while they are able to find vulnerable victims who fear getting into any type of trouble with authority.
Labelling the UK government’s fried chicken box campaign as ‘racist’ does nothing to steer young people away from knife crime
It was reported earlier this week that UK Parliament’s Youth Select Committee had been told that drug gangs are grooming children to transport and sell substances such as heroin and crack cocaine on their behalf by buying them meals at fast food outlets such as fried chicken restaurants. After befriending young people and treating them to portions of chicken and chips, gang members are said to ask their victims to return the favour by helping them ply their illicit trade, according to written evidence from the Youth Justice Board of England and Wales.
The warning came just weeks after community group London Grid for Learning launched a campaign to raise awareness of the manner in which co-called county lines gangs are using this method to recruit young people to sell drugs for them. A poster produced by the organisation intended to be displayed in “chicken shops” warned young people that anybody who befriends them and buys them food will most likely ask that they do something to repay that generosity.
County lines activity, which involves urban UK gangs recruiting young people to travel to small towns and rural areas to sell drugs on their behalf, is widely recognised as major driver of Britain’s spiralling violent crime crisis. Currently, young people are being stabbed to death across the UK on an almost daily basis. Children recruited into these types of gangs are not only encouraged to dish out violence to rival dealers themselves, but can also face the prospect of serious physical reprisals if they fail to do what their gang leaders expect of them or lose the drugs they have been charged with selling.
What with there being a clear link between the grooming of children by county lines gangs in fast food restaurants and the violent world victims can go on to find themselves caught up in, one might imagine that any action by the British government to tackle the issue would be considered a positive step. Not so.
Given the evidence that gangs are targeting children in British fast food restaurants in the manner outlined above, a UK government campaign involving anti-knife violence messages being printed on boxes used by chicken shops seems an inordinately sensible idea. The British Home Office has teamed up with restaurant chains including Chicken Cottage, Dixy Chicken and Morley’s, creating food boxes that direct diners to explore the stories of young people who have turned their backs on violent crime to pursue more worthwhile activities.
As these types of eateries can be locations at which children and young people can be groomed into a life of violent crime, what better place to direct messages that might prevent them from becoming victims? But no. Numerous campaigners and opposition politicians are falling over themselves to label the initiative as racist, despite the fact that it makes no overt suggestion that any one ethnicity is more prone to becoming involved in violent crime than another.
Opponents of the idea argue that it plays on an old trope that some people of colour have a particular fondness for fried chicken, extrapolating from this the implication that the campaign is implicitly linking violent crime with not being white, and being from an afro-Caribbean background in particular. The fact that people who are convicted of carrying a knife in England and Wales disproportionately come from non-white backgrounds aside, immediately screaming “racist” from the side-lines when efforts are made to reduce the butchery that is currently blighting the UK’s streets helps nobody, except those looking to score cheap political points.
As demonstrated, clear evidence suggests that these types of fast food outlets are breeding grounds for violent gang activity, regardless of the actual or perceived ethnicity of their patrons. As such, it surely makes sense to target anti-violent crime messages at the often young people who frequent them. Or should the government place similar messaging on napkins used for afternoon tea at the Savoy?
With limited resources, it makes sense for the UK government to target campaigns such as this where they are most likely to be effective. Reductively calling policymakers racist for doing so is the worst type of political point scoring, and does nothing to further the fight against the tsunami of violent crime that is currently enveloping the UK. Instead of trying to find fault with any particular issue or policy on the grounds of race in any given circumstance, critics of the initiative would perhaps do well to come up with their own ideas about tackling the issues highlighted in the Youth Justice Board of England and Wales’ evidence to the Youth Select Committee.
The stiff consequences and hard times that can face users of fake Viagra
Since it was first approved for use back in 1998, erectile dysfunction treatment Viagra has become one of the most iconic prescription drugs of modern times. More than 20 years on, the little blue pill remains very much at the forefront of public consciousness, despite the fact that numerous other treatments for impotence are available. With Pfizer’s patent for Viagra expiring back in 2012, men who require the drug can now get their hands on much cheaper generic versions for a fraction of the price of the original. In some countries, they can even buy a Pfizer product named Viagra Connect over the counter. But while Viagra and other drugs like it have never been so easy to get hold of in most parts of the world, bizarrely, the illicit trade in fake versions of the medicine is thriving, which is bad news for people who choose to take these counterfeit pills.
With Viagra being one of the most faked drugs in the world, those who would rather avoid having to see their doctor for a prescription or face the embarrassment of buying it at their local pharmacy face a high chance of being sold a counterfeit version if they choose to source it from a dodgy online pharmacy or a drug dealer, many of whom have taken the enterprising decision to add erectile dysfunction pills to the list of items they sell. In fact, a study published in 2012 revealed that 77% of Viagra tablets sold online were fake.
It was reported this week that the UK’s Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) had said that it had seized illicit Viagra worth more than £50 million ($60.36 million) over the course of the past five years. In 2018 alone, some 4.7 million unlicensed Viagra pills were seized by the agency, which was up from around 4.6 million in 2017. In Canada, the vast majority of the nearly 5,500 packages of counterfeit pharmaceuticals that were brought into the country between April 2016 and March 2017 were reported to have been sexual enhancement drugs such as counterfeit Viagra. Back in December of last year, experts warned that bogus erectile dysfunction pills were putting people’s lives at risk in the United Aran Emirates, with representatives from Pfizer noting that Viagra was the most commonly seized counterfeit drug in the country.
Counterintuitively, it seems that the problem of fake Viagra has grown as people’s ability to access the drug legitimately has increased. This phenomenon is particularly surprising when the potential consequences of consuming fake erectile dysfunction treatments are relatively widely known. Apart from the fact that many who purchase bogus pills run the risk that their tablets will not contain Viagra’s active ingredient Sildenafil, which would result in the desired effect not being achieved, oftentimes counterfeit impotence treatments can be made up of substances that could cause all manner of unpleasant effects, up to and including death.
According to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Health in 2012, fake Viagra pills seized in various locations across the world have been found to contain the likes of paint, amphetamine, printer ink, antifungal medication and talcum powder. Counterfeit erectile dysfunction tablets have also been known to be made up of lead and rat poison. Taking pills that contain these ingredients can result in liver damage, strokes, heart attacks and loss of life.
Despite all this, the black market in bogus Viagra pills is going from strength to strength, with seizures rocketing in many parts of the globe. In September 2016, police in Poland revealed they had discovered what was believed to be the world’s largest illegal fake Viagra pill factory, seizing some 100,000 counterfeit erectile dysfunction tablets from a location in the city of Bydgoszcz. In some cases, erectile dysfunction tablets available on the black market do contain the active ingredient that users desire, but these are often versions of the drugs from countries such as India that are not approved for use in the West, and do not have to pass the rigorous safety checks medicines produced in some other countries are subjected to. As a result, these can sometimes contain either too much or too little active ingredient.
In rare cases, Viagra purchased from illicit sources can be the genuine article, having been diverted from legitimate pharmaceutical supply chains. But even then, users could suffer undesirable side effects if they have particular medical conditions or are on other types of medication. At the end of the day, with erectile dysfunction treatments now being so cheap and relatively freely available, it is a wonder that anybody would take the risk of swallowing what could be a fake Viagra tablet, regardless of how pressing the need to take the drug might be.
High rewards and low risks are increasingly attracting organised crime networks to the cruel puppy smuggling trade
Towards the end of last month, a British animal welfare charity warned UK tourists on holiday in Europe not to buy puppies from pet shops on the continent. DogsTrust cautioned that ruthless organised crime gangs that have moved into the puppy smuggling trade could be targeting pet shops in holiday resorts across Europe, which often tell tourists incorrectly that the animals they sell can be legally taken back to countries such as Britain after a quick visit to a local vet.
While it is certainly not the case that all pet shops in European resorts have links to the illicit puppy smuggling trade, many will be third party suppliers of the animals they sell, making it all but impossible to ascertain whether or not their stock has been unethically bred by organisations that could have links to other forms of criminality. What is for sure though, is that crime networks across Europe are becoming increasingly attracted to puppy smuggling on account of the desirable risk/reward ratio it offers.
It is not hard to see why. Over the past few years, a partly celebrity-driven trend has resulted in the rising popularity of so-called designer dogs such as French Bulldogs, Cockapoos and Labradoodles in countries such as Britain and the US, which has in turn created a huge market for criminals who are willing to breed and smuggle these types of canines with little concern for their welfare or the environment in which they live.
With animals like these sometimes changing hands for upwards of $1,500, there are huge amounts of money to be made. It has even been suggested that the illicit trade has become more lucrative than drug trafficking, with the added bonus that being prosecuted for puppy smuggling attracts a much lesser punishment than trafficking substances such as cocaine or heroin.
An investigation conducted last year by DogsTrust found that Eastern European crime networks play a major role in the puppy smuggling trade. The charity spoke with one Hungarian dealer who claimed he could export as many as 400 dogs a week from his hometown, which works out to an annual total of 20,000 a year, and a yearly revenue of £28 million ($34 million), assuming an average sale price of £1,400 per animal.
DogsTrust also revealed that puppy smugglers were forcing heavily-pregnant bitches and puppies to travel hundreds of miles in poor conditions to countries such as the UK, and were using crooked vets to provide the animals with bogus pet passports and fake vaccination stamps for underage puppies. Elsewhere, the charity found that organised criminals in Serbia were implanting underage dogs with EU microchips and creating pre-filled European passports to pass off their stock as EU-bred animals for easier entry to the 28-nation bloc.
Although seemingly not as acute across the Atlantic, puppy smuggling is also a problem in the US. In May of this year, the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention published a paper on the methods employed by puppy smugglers to get their live illicit cargo into the country. The report noted how customs inspectors at John F Kennedy International Airport noted an uptick in the number of young dogs being brought into the country in October 2017, with investigators observing at the time that targeting the gangs behind the trade involved employing similar tactics to those that they used to catch drug smugglers.
The CDC paper said that many of the dogs being smuggled into the US were being bred on illicit puppy farms overseas, and that the danger of these animals suffering from congenital abnormalities and disease was high due to the poor conditions in which they were reared. In September of last year, US Customs and Border Protection revealed that its officers had arrested a San Antonio man who was attempting to smuggle 25 puppies into the country inside duffel bags.
Just days ago, DogsTrust welcomed news that the British government had announced an inquiry into the puppy smuggling trade. The charity also renewed its call for harsher penalties that might dissuade the perpetrators of such crimes from continuing to carry them out. But with the popularity of so-called designer dogs showing no sign of waning anytime soon, it will likely require the introduction of long jail terms for those caught smuggling young dogs to have any impact on the burgeoning trade.
With such huge amounts of money to be made, ruthless criminals who care little for the welfare of the animals they exploit will likely move into the trade in greater numbers, safe in the knowledge that for now, in many countries being caught in the act will result in a much lesser punishment than they would receive if they were apprehended trafficking drugs or people.
- Organised crime police in Australia seize 1.5 tonnes of smuggled tobacco worth A$1.5 million
- Labelling the UK government’s fried chicken box campaign as ‘racist’ does nothing to steer young people away from knife crime
- Two men jailed over conspiracy to smuggle pig semen hidden in shampoo bottles into Australia
- British police warn social media users not to mock drug dealer’s receding hairline
- Delta Air Lines donates 100 flights and additional $1.5 million to US human trafficking charity Polaris
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
8 February 2018
28 November 2017
28 November 2017
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