A man once dubbed ‘Britain’s Greatest Fraudster’ - now turned crime fighter - has visited Northern Ireland to give an insight into the psyche of scammers.
Tony Sales spoke at the ‘The Psychology of Scamming’ event on Monday in Belfast, which was organised by the ScamwiseNI Partnership and Gumtree.
He is one of very few people to have worked at both the summit of organised crime and the pinnacle of fraud prevention; after a criminal career spanning 30 years, his expertise is in a wide range of criminal activities covering the online and offline worlds.
His objectives now are fraud prevention and opening people’s eyes to what they don’t see at first. “Don’t for one minute believe it all takes place in the digital world,” Scamwise NI said.
He started out as a traditional fraudster, cloning credit cards and taking out store cards in other people’s names.
But the rise of the internet was a game-changer. Internet forums began selling people’s stolen data and he realised the real cash was in personal information.
“It’s the new currency,” he told the BBC. “You can steal someone’s house from them. You can steal it from underneath them and there’s nothing they can do about it.”
He was eventually jailed, but since leaving prison has put his knowledge to positive use. He will often take a week to inspect a major corporation for weaknesses, after which he will present his findings.
“Normally by the end of the presentation, they’re breathless and with their jaw dropped on the table, saying ‘wow, we never saw that’.”
But he warns that fraud now moved on: “Your life is in your phone so I can now take over your life,” he said. “I can see your life, I can talk to people on Facebook as you, I can talk to people on LinkedIn as you, I can tweet as you, I can send tweets out with malware in them as you that will then infect everyone that you know.”
Chief Superintendent Simon Walls said: “I would take this opportunity to encourage anyone who has been a victim of a scam to report it and remember, if you can spot a scam, you can stop a scam and if it seems too good to be true, it probably is!”
Head of Communications at Gumtree, Fergus Campbell, said his company has worked more closely with police in the past two years to make it a more hostile for criminals. See: www.nidirect.gov.uk/scamwiseni or the ScamwiseNI Facebook page.