Telecoms fraud more profitable than drug smuggling

Organised criminal gangs are targeting mobile operators more than ever as mobile subscription fraud becomes easier and more profitable than drug smuggling, according to information intelligence consultancy Detica.

Figures released by the Communications Fraud Control Association (CFCA) in March estimate that annual global fraud losses in the telecoms sector are now between $54bn and $60bn – an increase of 52 per cent from 2003.

In the UK alone, the Telecom UK Fraud Forum (TUFF) estimates the total annual loss to be in the region of £866mn with mobile operators seen as more vulnerable than fixed line players.

One common scam fraudsters use is to direct calls to their own premium rate services by tricking mobile users into calling a premium rate number. The mobile operator ends up paying a commission to the premium rate service owner but is not able to recover the costs, Detica said.

Alistair Lovegrove, telecoms specialist at Detica, said that defrauding operators is now seen by organised criminal gangs as more attractive than drug smuggling.

“Given that the penalties for fraud are typically less severe than for burglary or robbery of similar sums, combined with the difficulties of getting a successful prosecution, defrauding operators is a relatively low risk and lucrative activity,” he said.

Lovegrove also warned that criminal gangs are becoming more sophisticated in their techniques, aiming for high volume, low impact fraud and prefering to operate at a scale, using multiple identities that successfully run below the operators’ detection thresholds.

“Nearly half of all UK fraud prosecutions in the UK in 2005 were of professional criminals, so it is clear that mobile fraud is not simply an opportunistic, amateur activity,” Lovegrove said.

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