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Met leads UK's 'biggest ever' fraud operation to dismantle spoofing website

The fraud website iSpoof, operated by scammers using false identities, has targeted more than 200,000 potential victims in England alone.

A fraud website which cost its victims tens of millions of pounds has been dismantled courtesy of an international policing operation led by Scotland Yard.

The Met Police's cyber and economic crime units, together with Europol, Eurojust, the Dutch authorities and the FBI, took down the website iSpoof this week as part of an operation which has been running since June 2021.

Operation Elaborate, designed to target a suspected organised crime group, resulted in more than 100 arrests in the UK - most on suspicion of fraud. 

The suspected organiser of the website was arrested in East London earlier this month. He has been charged with a range of offences and remanded in custody. 

According to the Met, this is the UK's biggest ever fraud operation, which has been supported by the City of London Police as the national lead force for fraud.

Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley believes its success shows that the force is "determined to target corrupt individuals intent on exploiting often vulnerable victims".

He admitted that cyber crime is "one of the greatest challenges for law enforcement in the 21st century".

News of Operation Elaborate comes less than ten days after a National Audit Office report revealed that fraud was the largest category of crime in the year ending June 2022, accounting for 41% of all crime against individuals in England and Wales.

iSpoof, which had 59,000 user accounts after being created in December 2020, was operated by scammers who used false identities to con their victims by posing as representatives of a number of high street banks.

They were able to do this because the website allowed users - who paid in Bitcoin - to disguise their phone number to appear as though they were calling from a trusted source, in a process known as 'spoofing'.

More than 200,000 potential victims have been targeted in England alone, with scammers targeting almost 20 people every minute of the day at one stage.

In the 12 months until August 2022 around 10 million fraudulent calls were made globally via iSpoof, with around 3.5 million of those made in the UK.

The average loss from those who reported being scammed is believed to be £10,000, with the total losses reported to Action Fraud around £48 million - though this is likely to be an underestimate.

Those behind the site earned almost £3.2 million in one 20-month period. 

Given the large pool of 59,000 potential suspects, investigators are first focusing on UK users who have spent at least £100 of Bitcoin to use the website. 

Detective Superintendent Helen Rance, who leads on cyber crime for the Met, said dismantling this website has "prevented further offences and stopped fraudsters targeting future victims".

She had a warning for the scammers: "Our message to criminals who have used this website is we have your details and are working hard to locate you, regardless of where you are.”

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