Reports of cyber frauds in the north-east are continuing to increase – with work being done to protect the vulnerable against them.
A new report being brought to Aberdeenshire Council’s communities committee next week discusses the different types of cyber fraud.
Work has been undertaken by officers in the region to help support the elderly or vulnerable to help prevent this type of crime, as well as educating the community.
A verbal update on fraud was given in November last year to members, with a further report requested on how it impacts on those within the region.
There are a number of different types of cyber-enabled fraud, including investment fraud, safe-account fraud and romance fraud.
In investment fraud, Police Scotland said victims are generally searching online for an investment opportunity, and are then induced to invest money in cloned firms.
And in safe-account fraud, victims receive a call from someone who is pretending to be part of the fraud team at their bank, or from the police, where they are induced to transfer their funds into a ‘safe account’ provided by the fraudster.
Romance fraud is where someone registers with a genuine dating agency online and befriends another member, and after they get the victim to trust them, they get them to send money.
Often they pretend to be a member of the military who needs money to travel home because of a sick relative.
A report, which will be discussed by councillors when the committee meets next Thursday, states: “There has been a steady and consistent increase in reported non-contact fraud across all areas of Scotland, including Aberdeenshire.
“A portion of this may be as a direct result of increased internet usage and online investment activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it should be noted that
prior to the pandemic this had already been assessed as an escalating crime trend.”
The report goes on to state: “The main beneficiaries of these Frauds are not based within Aberdeenshire. There are very few based within Scotland or indeed the UK and it is challenging to determine the final recipient of funds appropriated.
“These Frauds are often orchestrated by complex Organised Crime Groups so the most effective method of targeting these crimes locally focusses primarily on prevention and education.
“In respect of safe-account frauds there are occasional instances where the perpetrator has travelled to the area and either posed as an official from a financial institution or a Police Officer in order to have cash handed to them by the victim.
“Police Scotland have been successful in identifying and disrupting one of these groups operating across Scotland which has impacted on the north-east. Money Laundering Enquiries have also been successful in reporting the holders of ‘mule’ accounts.”
There has been a range of different operations carried out by Police Scotland to tackle fraud, as well as raise awareness.
This includes national Operation Giantkind to combat investment fraud, and the Take 5 for Fraud campaign which ran until January and aimed to encourage reporting of all fraud and attempts so an accurate understanding of the problem could be established.
In the north-east, officers have approached a three-strand approach of prevention, governance and investigation.
A short life working group also ensured that awareness was provided to the vulnerable and elderly community in relation to the different types of fraud crime.
Detective Chief Inspector David Howieson said: “We are aware that fraud continues to rise across Scotland, including Aberdeenshire, and specially trained officers are working across the country to combat this despicable and cowardly crime.
“Highly organised groups of criminals target and exploit the most vulnerable people in our communities, persuading them to part with personal information and money, leaving them bereft and distraught.
“Police Scotland is encouraging members of the public and businesses to be aware and we are doing this through the media, on our digital channels and working with partners such as the council.
“Our advice is to take some straightforward steps to reduce the chances of becoming a victim of fraud.
“We ask people to be aware that a telephone call, email or text may not be from the person or organisation it appears to come from while banks, the police or other legitimate organisations, will never ask you for personal banking information or ask you to move funds to a different account.
“Our ambitious Cyber Strategy, published in September 2020, has set a clear direction for how we will tackle the threat, risk and harm from digitally-enabled crimes including fraud. Anyone who has concerns, or believes they may be a victim, should report it to us via 101.”