SPECIAL FEATURE: Mel Fordham on scam data

Earlier in the year we fell foul of an organisation, purporting to be a data supplier, offering secured loan leads. Without going into too much detail, we were contacted by the individual in question initially via a social media / business networking site.

After a regular exchange of emails and the provision of a template of lead information we were offered a trial / sample selection of leads for a reduced price.

Having made payment by transfer to the designated bank account provided by the supplier, delivery was expected / promised within 2 hours of confirmed payment. Despite a constant effort to obtain delivery, I was shocked when after a four day delay a simple list of mobile phone numbers was delivered under the heading “data as ordered”.

The list of numbers provided was obviously of no value at all and was in no way reflective of the template we were promised. i.e. name, address, property value, employment status etc.

Following numerous complaints I was promised a full refund, which I hasten to add was never made.

I tried to contact the data provider at the address given only to find this was a serviced office whose management team had never heard of the individual or organisation in question.

I quickly came to the conclusion we had been subject of a scam, albeit involving a relatively small amount of money (under £200.00)

As soon it was absolutely clear the refund was not going to be made and the individual had gone away or not responding further, I contacted our bank, who advised they were unable to help and that I should contact the recipient bank, which I did and was advised they too were powerless to help and that I should contact the social media site which was the catalysis in initial connection. Whilst the site took details and assured me they would investigate; to date, six months after reporting the matter I have had absolutely no feedback or update.

In line with advice from colleagues, I notified the Office of Fair Trading, who referred me to local trading standards office and also the police. Within a day the police advised they considered the matter too small to investigate and were taking no further action, suggesting civil action would be the appropriate course of action for recovery, which I found rather paradoxical given the address was “erroneous”

It quickly became apparent that this was a lost cause and that I would be wise to write down to experience and spend no more abortive time on an irrecoverable situation.

However, following this episode I begun to receive regular unsolicited emails from so-called “data providers” offering the widest range of data leads and hot-key transfer enquiries.

The profile of these organisations were all very similar; signed off by an individual with no title, a generic email address i.e. @yahoo.com, @hotmail.co.uk, @bt.net (no inference implied) but just to outline – there was lack of an organisational email address. Additionally and generally no postal / office address, no phone number or at best a mobile number and rarely a website address.

Given the regularity, range of names / organisations and indeed common pattern I started to wonder was this organised and not simply a one off opportunist.

This week I have been included in what can only be described as a flurry of emails copied in to what I estimate is 50 or so people.

The thrust of the emails is from people and organisations who have suffered similar data “rip-off’s” some of the emails being pretty un-printable, but clearly identifying this is a growing culture and what on the face of it is a scam which is un-stoppable or individually involves such microscopic crime it not of interest or uneconomical to investigate. However, given the emails received this week I have the most serious concerns this is affecting a great deal of people and is clearly growing at an alarming rate and by inference must involve quantum large enough to keep those involved active and engaged.

The sophistication of what I perceive to be fraudulent emails has increased beyond recognition to the point they could almost be described paradoxically as “professional” which reinforces my belief this is the thin edge of soft undetectable crime at best and serious organised crime at worst.

I know myself and many of my peers are anxious to rid the industry of what appears to be a malevolent and devious culture which will undoubtedly bring our industry into disrepute if un-checked.