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Crowd-funded cyber-policing

In what I like to describe as anarcho-capitalism in action, the pseudonymous Jim Browning is investigating, reverse-hacking, harassing and disrupting people engaging in tech-support fraud. His work is made possible by YouTube advertising revenues and Patreon donations.

Just a few days ago, with help from YouTuber Karl Rock who makes videos about life in India, he was able to shut down a call centre that was robo-dialling people and convincing them to pay for non-existent security software. Typically, they then call back a few months later and perform a refund scam, which involves offering a refund, pretending to refund too much money, and fooling people into returning the difference.

In his softly-spoken way Browning is also performing the service of educating people about how these scams operate so that they might better avoid falling foul of them.

It is not just him: there has emerged a network of people who are working in various ways to disrupt this sort of crime. BobRTC is a way for people to phone up the fraudsters and waste their time. Scammerblaster is a group of people who take reports of phone numbers being used for fraud and use a network of servers to bombard them with enough calls to render the number inoperative.

All this can be more effective than state policing. Indian authorities can be slow to act on reports of crimes where the only victims are in foreign countries. Jim Browning speaks of one occasion where he was listening in to a call where the American victim had been sent to buy gift cards so he called the local police who were not interested in taking action because the crime had not yet taken place.

Nonetheless state authorities do sometimes take action when they are sufficiently embarrassed, as in the case of a call centre raided after it was featured in a Canadian TV programme.

12 comments to Crowd-funded cyber-policing

  • APL

    Rob Fisher: “In his softly-spoken way Browning is also performing the service of educating people about how these scams operate so that they might better avoid falling foul of them.”

    I propose in sadness, the people who fall for these scams don’t watch Jim Browning videos.

    There are a variety of methods I use to counter this types of call. Often revolving around playing dumb to waste as much time as you can afford. The theory being, if they are trying to help you find the space bar on you keyboard, they can’t be calling some other mark.

    One thing about Browning’s videos, the sheer number of individuals who can be gulled into sending money from their own accounts to random unknown account on the say so of a completely unknown caller, is astounding.

  • Mr Ed

    If I get a scam call from within the UK, I usually keep them talking, pretend to put them on hold and say something like ‘Right, Sarge, I’ve got a trace on the line’..

    APL, it’s worse than that, around 12,500,000 people in the UK vote Labour.

  • Rob Fisher

    “the people who fall for these scams don’t watch Jim Browning videos” — it’s true, although I have been able to get a few people I know who might benefit to watch them.

  • Andrew Duffin

    I had one the other day who asked me for “the location of your IP address”. On my pointing out that this was a meaningless question and that most people wouldn’t know what an IP address was, they ended the call. Oddly enough.

    I suppose the next step would have been “Go to your computer and navigate to this website, we’ll help you”, etc etc.

    Like APL I am astonished at the number of people – not all old, techno-hopeless, and confused, who fall for these things.

  • offering a refund, pretending to refund too much money, and fooling people into returning the difference.

    This scam is also used in the holiday market, targeting small-time B&B and self-catering operators. A long stay is booked well ahead, too much money is sent e.g. by other-currency bank cheque, and after the cheque has appeared to clear but before the money is truly irrevocably in the target’s account, the excess is requested back – or the imaginary wife of the fictitious holidaying couple ‘falls ill’ and the base is requested, with the excess left as a for-the-inconvenience (or in the ideal form of scam never mentioned by its greedy as well as fooled ‘recipients’). However it works, the request is to refund the money by some faster payment method, exploiting that electronic banking can show the original sum cleared before it truly is.

    the people who fall for these scams don’t watch Jim Browning videos.

    In the case I describe, the ideal target is an elderly couple who have taken to running an inherited house as a B&B or self-catering and who, precisely because (pace Mr Ed), they do not vote Labour or associate with that many who do, may be over-trusting.

    Luckily, the perpetrators are often not competent. Conquest, describing one Soviet spy operation, notes a U.S. passport forged in the name ‘Jacson’ as an example of the slip-ups that occur even in supposedly sophisticated operations by trained actors. The fraudsters, being neither, can miswrite their cheques so badly they do not even appear to clear, can present as French-Canadian residents but send from a French-metropolitan bank, etc., etc. And they can be very bad at acting a credible degree of concern when informed they have over-paid.

  • Runcie Balspune

    It’s such a shame this carries on, particularly when it is targeting elderly folks.

    My father, in the days of modems, had a drive-by website change his modem number to an 0898 which cost him over £400 before anything could be done about it, and shame on BT paying money to criminals and grabbing their share of profits from robbing a septuagenarian, back then there was no competition and BT just told people to piss off (note to Jezza if he’s going to bring it back).

    My mother-in-law had a scumbag in India get her to download a remote control app, take control of her PC and promptly tried running through all the UK bank websites ready to transfer to their Bank of India account, they thought they could cover it up by uninstalling Chrome but I managed to recover the URL history and work out what they were trying to do, luckily she did not use online banking and had no passwords saved.

    I’ve moved all of them off Windows PCs and on to tablets, so you don’t get this kind of issue, but I guess it is only a matter of time.

    I recently got a scary call from “HMRC” saying if I don’t press “1” they’ll send the boys round with an arrest warrant, a quick Google showed this scam has been in operation for months and I cannot figure out why Plod has not stomped on it, blatant threats even.

    Thanks for those websites, I will check them up.

  • Herbie

    Here is another scam-baiter called “Kitboga”. It’s quite entertaining. He uses a virtual machine to allow them on his PC and a fake online banking website that he allows them to access. Then pretends to spend the money instead of returning it. He does a very good job of explaining the different types of scam calls to viewers.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikcHIkwUDvU

  • APL

    Herbie: “Then pretends to spend the money instead of returning it. ”

    That was funny.

  • Rob Fisher

    Herbie, I’d seen that one before but it’s good. Especially when he buys two mobility scooters to get back at Susie Durkins.

  • GregWA

    I for one would like to see a few of these scammers, when caught and convicted, have their hands cut off. At least the worst ones or the ones targeting those especially vulnerable (like Labour voters). This is one of the few things the “Religion of Peace” has gotten right. Show them how a digital world looks when you have no more digits!

  • APL

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-p9JkH4RY8

    This is a corker, where he gets two separate scammers on the call squabbling with each other. Pure gold!

  • Nemesis

    Herbie, thanks for ‘Kitboga’ link. Yes, very entertaining.

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