Monday, January 25, 2010


Partly inspired by the previous post about bomb-non-detectors, I'm expanding into general frauds.

Account take-over fraud

Broadly speaking, someone impersonating you will telephone your bank, give the right answers, and transfer the money in your account to their own, then withdraw it.

Alternatively, they may obtain fake ID in your name, open a joint account with a confederate, then transfer the money across, leaving the hapless confederate to go to a branch and attempt to withdraw £10,000 in cash. That didn't work too well, the confederate got two years inside.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Have passwords that are difficult to guess (no pet's names, kid's names, dates of birth, address, 1066, 1966, 1945, etc.)

This type of fraud is similar, but distinct from...

Identity theft

Someone assumes your identity, obtains official documents, bank accounts, etc. and eventually arrives in a position where they may apply for credit in your name. They do so, taking the money, and allowing you to clear up the mess. Forget the mortgage, you probably won't be able to a mobile phone until this one gets cleared up. Even *attempts* at ID fraud will show up on your credit record, as it is usually committed by applying for credit.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Shred ALL personal correspondence before disposing of it. Guard your personal data with your life. It's not paranoia if they're really after you. I've opened a bank account before now using nothing but a mailshot about car insurance. It's harder these days, but not by much.

Advanced fee fraud

The 'classic' or 419 scam. 419 is the provision of the Nigerian Penal Code prohibiting such behaviour in Nigeria. Most of the fraud is from Nigeria, for some reason. is worth a read if you have a spare afternoon and need a laugh.

How does it work? First, the carrot -- a cash lottery prize, a suitcase full of money, a box of gems, gold bullion, money in escrow accounts, whatever. The hook is, they want to share it with YOU, yes YOU.

Touched, you correspond at length. It turns out they need to bribe customs officials / pay registration fees / whatever. Would you please wire the money to me, by Western Union? Ta. Needless to say, you never hear from them again.

MORAL OF THE STORY: If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

Deposit fraud

Particularly relevant for flat-hunters or car-buyers, this one. You see a nice one, cheap, good area / low miles (alarm bells should be ringing already...).

Anyway, they want to show it to serious punters only, so prove you've got the money for the deposit please. How? Oh, why don't you just wire some money to your mate, by Western Union, and email me a picture of the confirmation slip?

You do so, and they just take the money -- the picture of the confirmation code is all they need. Off they trot to their local Western Union branch, and jackpot!

MORAL OF THE STORY: avoid Western Union like the plague.

Cheque fraud

Many and various forms. Generic principle: the fraudster must engineer a situation by which you need to give him some money or valuable object, like a car. This may be by overpaying you for something, the excess to be sent to him from your account. This may be by him giving you a cheque in exchange for your nice motor vehicle.

In all variations, your money / valuable consideration is handed over against a cheque. This cheque will be stolen or forged. The money will appear on your bank account. Many banks call this 'pre-clearing' or some such rubbish. It's nothing of the sort. The cheque can be reversed up to a week later, and the money will magically disappear. By which point, of course, your money is long gone.

MORAL OF THE STORY: nothing valuable should leave your possession until the cheque has cleared. A UK cheque takes SEVEN WORKING DAYS to clear. Even electronic transfers can be reversed on occasion. Cheques drawn on foreign banks take MUCH longer.

And finally, in reply to one of the comments on the previous post, about cheque fraud...

Arnold, saying 'you don't have to be stupid or greedy to fall for a scam' is not entirely accurate. The lawyer scam you mention, is in fact entirely typical. The fraudster contacts a lawyer purporting to be a director at a prestigious company. The lawyer checks it out online, it looks good, mentions in newspapers, etc.

They need help collecting debts from recalcitrant clients of their, which funds are then to be forwarded on to the company.

They give contact details of the 'non-paying customer', who is, of course, the fraudster by any other name. They 'pay up' using a stolen or otherwise fraudulent cheque.


I've put the stupid bit in capitals to help you out. Actually, the really stupid bit is not checking the client out properly. Best thing is to ask for a name, call the listed number for the company, and ring them, asking to be put through. If it's a scam, "no-one by that name works here, I'm sorry", if not, one satisfied client, impressed by his cautious and thorough lawyer.

The lawyer described himself in the following terms; "I'm a capital 'D' Dumbass". For a man with 23 years' experience, that's probably a little harsh, or at least I hope so, for his clients' sakes. He dropped his guard, and didn't verify a client's identity. And it cost him $182,500. Ouch.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Be careful, everyone.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Confronted with this story, I could only exclaim something rather rude. Turns out that James Randi, famous sceptic, has offered the man $1,000,000 to prove it works. The Beeb are saying he made $85M out of something that doesn't work, so I don't think he'll be after the million bucks any time soon.

There's a happy ending, though. Actually, happy for everyone other than the manufacturer.

I am very envious of the prosecutor that will get to open the facts for that particular case. The 'bomb detector' appears to have been an RF tag, as seen on frozen chickens and bottle of booze in this part of the world, and NO OTHER FUNCTIONING PARTS. Bloody hell.

So, I started wondering how so many people were taken in for so long. And then reality came crashing back in. Fraud relies on stupid people, on people who will believe anything. Suitcases full of cash in Nigeria that need customs fees paying. Lottery prizes for lotteries you haven't entered. Genuine examples, of course, which keep me in business to a certain extent.

Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Unfortunately, if you're reading this, the chances are you don't need the warning. And if you have no idea what I mean by that, then you should know that I have a package in customs with uncut diamonds in it, and I just need £12,800 to get it out. It's worth £14M, and I'll give you half. Wire me the money and I'll let you know.

It wouldn't be fair to bay for someone's blood (in a legal sense, of course), without giving him a right of reply. So here's an excerpt from his blog...please don't read it if you're of a scientific bent, as your head will explode.

Dear Annon. Your statement is totlally away from what the basic concept of how the product works. You are over-complicating the simplicity of the devcie as it is not detecting the 'static-electric' fields of any of the substances.
Simply explained....the unit is acting like a pure passive receiver. It is emitting nothing but 'tuning' to the the substance being detected. However, because of the very low emitions given off by the substance, it is necessary to generate a very high voltage that can only be created by something lke static-electricity. It is the combination of both this and the units 'receive' to detecting these very low emitting signals.
I hope this may explain.

To this uninformed, ill-educated observer, it appears to be, as we lawyers say, 'utter balls'. I will follow with interest.

Click if you dare, for more.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sun! Sand! Definitely no sea!

And to cheer you up, something from sunnier climes, Arizona, to be precise. It seems the state legislature failed to pass a statute that presumes delivery of anything that the State says it's posted. So unlike this great country, unless a speeding fine is served on you personally, it will expire. Seems quite sensible, as it means the police will concentrate on the more serious offences. The law of unintended consequences has swung into action, and the state has ninety MILLION dollars of fines outstanding. Outstanding!

Lest we all get teary-eyed at the prospect of getting out of second gear and above the six miles an hour we've all been doing recently, consider this: more than 40,000 people a year die on the road in America.

My strictly amateur analysis is as follows: deaths per distance unit travelled, the Yanks are way ahead because of the huge distances they drive. For example, in 2004, it was 1.46 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles travelled. In 2007, in the UK, this was 48 per 100 million vehicle kilometres. So per mile, it's above 60. Three years apart, yes, but that certainly doesn't account for the difference.
I can't find a decent comparison per journey or per driver.

Any statisticians out there want to volunteer an analysis of whether this is meaningful, or simply a big number I've added to a blog post to make a point?


Yes, I'm belatedly excited about the snow. Custody vans not going anywhere, videolinks becoming very necessary, courts closing because there's no heating in the cells, the whole country does indeed grind to a halt whenever we get snow. But at least it's proper snow this time. There was even a snowman outside one police station. I wish I could say it was still there.

Starter for ten: is it criminal damage to destroy a snowman?

This particular snowman was built by another person, on public land, with snow that fell on public land. The snowman does not constitute a nuisance or danger, as the considerate builder has located it out of the way of what little passing traffic there is. We can assume the planner inspectors won't be troubling Frosty either.

Answers on a postcard, in the DX, or in the comments section. I'd love to say there'd be a prize, but I just don't care that much.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year

My apologies for the sporadic posting, the festive season being what it is, the chances of a coherent post being published between the 24th December and today are slim, to say the least.

Still, now we've finished celebrating the incarnation of Santa Claus, and have performed the modern equivalent of ritual self-flagellation; queuing for the sales, we can look forward to 2010.

What will 2010 hold for the CPS, the criminal justice system, and indeed, more widely?

Firstly, less money for criminal lawyers, obviously. The CPS has already started gearing up for redundancies -- the compensation scheme has been changed, and it's now cheaper to fire people. Voluntary redundancies offered already, compulsory ones aren't far behind. Further legal aid cuts seem likely as the government tries to stem the flow of money.

A Tory government handing charging back to the police -- discontinuance rates will soar to start with, and then settle down.

A new government will take a dim view of recruiting highly-paid higher court advocates with massive pension liabilities in such dire times. Cutbacks ahoy!

Those who cause death with a single punch, or with a single incidence of careless driving will get longer sentences.

The Tories will have to ditch their ridiculous promise to ditch the Human Rights Act.

More generally... foreign wars over silly finite energy sources to continue, the Higgs boson discovered and supersymmetry proven, medical science will continue to advance apace, Google will move ever closer to world domination, speculation in the biscuit market will cause a shortage of those ridiculously tasty caramel digestives, the ban on hunting with hounds will be repealed, televised political debate will fail to generate interest, and fewer people will vote in the General Election than voted in the X-Factor final.

Happy New Year to you all, may 2010 find you in rude health, free from oppression, famine, disease, injustice and suffering.