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Dark web ‘a gift’ to identity theft fraudsters says APU Ltd

  • Vehicle stolen and taken to Brussels following case of identity theft
  • Fraud initiated after identity theft and fictitious accident in South East London
  • Telematics alert sparked cross-border investigation in collaboration with IFB and insurers
  • Anti-fraud experts at Accident Exchange-owned APU Ltd orchestrated vehicle ‘snatch back’

A stolen vehicle has been recovered from Brussels after a cross-border investigation involving identity theft on the dark web.

Presenting a huge challenge to law enforcement agencies, the dark web is primarily a marketplace for illicit activities where there are no rules or safeguards and almost anything can be traded including people, identities and drugs with little chance of being caught.

The latest case came about after fraudsters used stolen identities – offered for sale on the dark web – to report a collision between a Mercedes S-Class and a Range Rover Evoque in South East London, says anti-motor fraud expert, APU Ltd.

Recovered Vehicle in Tunnel
Recovered Vehicle in Tunnel

After securing a high value replacement car following the fictitious accident, the criminals triggered an alert from its telematics device as it approached the Channel Tunnel – often a sign a vehicle is about to leave the country – sparking a cross-border investigation.

APU Ltd moved to track down the driver and vehicle because in most cases permission to travel abroad is required. However, the vehicle was traced to Brussels, and efforts to contact the person believed to have hired the replacement vehicle failed.

Neil Thomas, Director of Investigative Services at APU Ltd, said: “Timing is everything and the decision to intervene or wait could be the difference between getting the vehicle back and never seeing it again. Our assessment was that the vehicle had been stolen and that we could be dealing with fraudsters.”

Field-based investigators were sent to the home address of the person who apparently hired the vehicle, while Thomas and a colleague drove to Brussels to locate and, if required, recover the car.

It was discovered that the vehicle driver had disabled the inbuilt telematics system and tracker, leaving only APU’s secondary technology in place, but this allowed APU to pinpoint the vehicle to a residential address in Ghent.

Meanwhile the field-based team discovered that the man thought to have hired the vehicle was completely unaware of the unfolding drama, so the car was seized by APU and brought back to the UK.

Both drivers alleged to have been involved in the original collision had now been contacted and ruled out as potential suspects of the vehicle theft. They were in fact victims of fraud.

The dark web is fuelling a surge in organised crime involving identity theft and insurance fraud according to anti-fraud experts, APU Ltd.

“Our team discovered that the identities were stolen and offered for sale on the dark web – they were unaware of the accident and the ensuing investigation. The dark web is a gift to fraudsters; they can buy the personal details of innocent people, take out insurance policies and come up with scams like this. We must raise awareness of the threat among the public and industry,” Thomas added.

“It can be an absolute nightmare for the victims, who then have to prove their innocence and can potentially have ongoing issues accessing credit or insurance products.”

The fraud and theft have been reported to the National Fraud Reporting Centre and the Insurance Fraud Bureau has also been informed.

“Tackling complex fraud cases has to be done by improving communication and collaboration. We know that fraud is changing and evolving, with new tactics all of the time, so halting organised crime such as this is a huge challenge,” said Thomas.

Providing replacement vehicles following a collision, the Accident Exchange Group remains vigilant to the changing face of fraud. It is committed to educating staff to spot the signs of fraud, and has seen a 25% rise in the number of hires referred to its fraud team for expert analysis, enabling it to spot the latest tactics employed by fraudsters.

Three simple steps to avoid identity theft or insurance fraud via the dark web:

  1. Report any theft of identification documents to the appropriate authorities
  2. Don’t give away too much personal information on social media which could help fraudsters assume your identity and hack your passwords
  3. Regularly check your credit reference files and bank statements and consider extra ID theft protection if you feel you are at high risk

Established ten years ago and staffed by former Police officers and forensic data analysts, Accident Exchange-owned APU Ltd. has been successful in facilitating numerous motor fraud prosecutions in the UK. It played a pivotal role in the recovery of multiple vehicles valued at over one million pounds from Uganda in one of the highest profile cases of motor fraud in the last decade.