Brian Sims

COVID-19 fraudster jailed for 22 months over cyber scam

A COVID-19 text scammer has been jailed for 22 months for using fake digital messages to trick people into providing personal banking details. Abdisalaam Dahir, aged 20, previously pleaded guilty at the Inner London Crown Court to charges of fraud by false representation, possessing articles for use in fraud and money laundering.

Based on the average loss to victims of phishing fraud and the number of victims’ personal details found in the defendant’s possession, the estimated potential loss was £185,265.76.

Dahir had been sending out bulk text messages to members of the public claiming to be from various well-known organisations. The victims were directed to fake websites where they were then asked for personal financial information, including their banking details.

Notably, messages that claimed to be from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs sought to attract victims to provide personal details via a hook that they may be eligible for a COVID-19 grant, targeting those who may have suffered due to the COVID pandemic.

The police found evidence obtained from phones and a laptop which demonstrated that the defendant had been involved in sending bulk SMS messages purporting to be from other organisations including the Royal Mail, Nationwide, HSBC, THREE and EE, asking the receiver to ‘click’ on a weblink within the message in order to provide more details, thereby passing sensitive details which can be used in ongoing fraud, to him. £10,650 in cash was also found under the defendant’s bed.

Smishing and phishing frauds

Dahir was engaged in smishing and phishing frauds. Smishing is when fraudsters obtain personal details of a victim by SMS text messages, while phishing is a method used by fraudsters to access similar valuable personal details – such as usernames and passwords – via a fake website.

Alexander White of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: “At a time when the country was looking to COVID-19 grants to help the desperate in our society financially survive this pandemic, Dahir was seeking to exploit the situation by prising vital personal financial information from vulnerable victims.”

White continued: “Criminals are increasingly using sophisticated online methods to try and extract information and money from unsuspecting members of the public. We need to be agile in our response to these phishing and smishing threats. Our new Economic Crime Strategy will allow us to adapt and enhance our capability.”

He concluded: “Working closely with experts from the City of London Police’s Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit, we have brought a rapid close to Dahir’s fraudulent operation. Hopefully, this case sends a clear message out to other fraudsters and reassures the public that work is underway to prevent it from happening.”

Exploiting the pandemic

Exploiting the pandemic In the last year, the CPS has seen cyber criminals look to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic as more and more individuals conduct more of their lives online. In direct response to this, the CPS has issued an ambitious Economic Crime Strategy designed to combat these offences.

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