A phone number spoofing site used by criminals has been taken down in the UK's biggest ever fraud sting.
Website ispoof.cc was being used to scam thousands of victims out of millions of pounds before a global police operation to bring it down.
The website was described by police as an online fraud shop, with as many as 20 people every minute being targeted by callers using technology bought from the site at one point.
One victim lost £3 million and the average loss among the 4,785 people who have reported being targeted to Action Fraud is £10,000.
So how do you know if you have been a victim of the scam?
Around 70,000 UK phone numbers called by criminals who used the site will be alerted by the Metropolitan Police via text message on Thursday and Friday and asked to contact the force.
Below are some signs you might have been contacted by scammers, according to the government's National Cyber Security Centre:
Through ispoof.cc technology, criminals often masked their numbers to trick victims into thinking they were being contacted by their bank and persuade them to pass on personal details that allowed fraudsters to steal cash.
Scammers try to gain your trust quickly, so you should be suspicious if a caller is claiming to be from someone official, such as your bank, doctor, solicitor or the government.
If you have any doubts about a caller, contact the organisation directly. Do not use the numbers or address in the message – use the details from their official website.
Criminals often threaten you with fines or other negative consequences if you do not respond within a certain time limit, such as 24 hours.
It is worth questioning if the organisation your caller is claiming to be from would ever threaten you with such time limitations.
Scammers will do everything they can to get your money, even playing on your emotions.
If the call makes you panic, fearful, hopeful or curious, you may be falling into the scammer's trap.
More examples include threatening language, false claims of support, and teasing you into wanting to find out more.
Preying on another human instinct, scammers often pretend to offer something in short supply, such as money or concert tickets.
Fear of missing out on a good opportunity can make you respond quickly, which is exactly what scammers want.
Take time to review the call - is the deal too good to be true?
During the Covid pandemic, many people in the UK received vaccine scam texts from criminals pretending to be the NHS.
This is an example of criminals exploiting current news stories, big events, or specific times of the year to make the scam appear more relevant.
Consider if you are expecting to receive a call or text like this and check if the number matches that of the organisation online.
It is worth remembering that the NHS will not require you to give your bank details over a call or through a text.
Potential number of UK victims 'extraordinary'
So far 120 arrests have been made over the scam – 103 in London and 17 outside the capital.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said the number of potential UK victims was “extraordinary”, adding: “What we are doing here is trying to industrialise our response to the organised criminals’ industrialisation of the problem.”
Ispoof was created in December 2020 and at its peak had 59,000 users, allowing them to pay for the criminal software using Bitcoin, with charges ranging from £150 to £5,000 per month. UK police began investigating the site in June 2021, opting for ispoof as the largest criminal site that was based in the country. Detective Superintendent Helen Rance, who leads on cyber crime for the Met, said: “By taking down ispoof we have prevented further offences and stopped fraudsters targeting future victims. “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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