A Lesson In Security

Theft is something that can happen at any time to anyone.

Calvin Barrett recently told us about how a well executed theft almost cost him his whole career.

Although cyber crime has recently become a much bigger threat, it’s important to remember that traditional theft still poses a threat to people from all walks of life. Students are, statistically speaking, the most likely to be targeted in terms of violent crimes, but theft is a crime that can be committed against companies as well as individuals, which Calvin unfortunately found out last year.

“It can be easy to underestimate criminals, especially thieves. The conception of the burglar as a bungling idiot in a striped shirt and a black mask is one that does this class of criminal a favour if anything, as it has led to the public deeming the threat of theft as diminishing. The irony is before my company was robbed I’d probably spent much more thought and effort on protecting my new home, not even thinking that my company was at risk, or that I would be made responsible for the loss of the goods.”

We often make the mistake in thinking that thieves only target ‘desirable’ items. Luxury products such as sports cars, watches, jewellery and TVs might well seem like attractive targets, but they’re often the most the protected items. Shops that sell these status symbols invest in copious layers of security and often mark their wares with UV strips that provide the police with a clear mark that they have been stolen. There are plenty of other items worth thousands, that aren’t as well protected though – such as high-tech survey equipment…

“Last year I was starting my first year as a quantity surveyor. I was fresh out of university and ready to tackle the world, if not a little nervous. I thought that my degree had taught me everything that I needed to know about the job, I was confident in my skills and felt well versed in the theory, but there were a few things that hadn’t been covered in my degree: security being one of them.”

Total stations, such as the Trimble M3 Total Station, are valuable assets to quantity surveyors, they are modern theodolites which help them accurately measure along both horizontal and vertical planes. There was a time when surveyors would use the manual version of this device which would require a team of people to correctly use, but today robotic total stations give surveyors the freedom to work alone, relying on the machine’s computer to do the brunt of the work. These items are, understandably, worth a lot of money but have only recently stated being targeted by thieves.

“It was the third week of working on-site and security was light, although I’d not realised just how light it was. I’d spent the morning surveying the site, taking notes and getting more and more hungry. When my boss radioed in for lunch I was so eager to eat that I stuck the cover over the total station and left it where it was. It wasn’t until I’d got back from work that I was able to see my error. Although I was initially told that I would lose my job, my company was eventually able to sue the team in charge of security and I was able to continue in my role – suffice to say that I’m a lot more careful now!”

Avoiding Hackers & Spammers

The internet is really not as safe as you think it might be.

Hal Lloyd got in contact with us after he discovered that he’d been defrauded out over £50.

The opportunities for criminals to take advantage of good people is bigger than it has ever been. There are a seemingly endless stream of avenues for hackers and spammers to use to gain access to bank accounts and personal information, including social media networks like Facebook and Instagram, as well as shopping sites such as eBay and Amazon, not to mention emails and text messaging.

Despite millions of pounds being spent every year on increased security for these sites, cyber criminals are constantly working on new ways to circumvent these measures, so it’s important to remain constantly vigilant whenever you’re using the internet, whether it’s on your phone, tablet or computer. If you let your guard down then you may find that the security of your devices will become compromised which could lead to personal information such as your bank details, address or phone contacts being leaked.

“The moment I realised what I’d done I felt instantly stupid, it was almost like I was coming out of this fugue state of complete idiocy. I remember sitting there dumbfounded with my debit card in my hand just thinking: ‘Why on earth did I do that?’ I’m an social media marketing expert in Liverpool, I know how the internet works but I’m just as vulnerable as a Granny with no clue.”

As of 2017 online fraud became the most common crime in the country, with close to 1 in 10 people in the country falling into the trap of an online fraudsters. Despite the frequency of these offences, the annual Crime Survey of England and Wales revealed that many people chose not to report the crime to the police as they believed that either they would not be able recover their money or they were simply too embarrassed to do so.

“It seems like a really obvious thing to say, but you really shouldn’t send strangers money over the internet. It’s as simple as that, but of course this is easily said than done, especially when this stranger is dangling a carrot that is just so very tempting. In my case the bait was a gig ticket which I’d appealed for on an events page. I literally said that I was ‘desperate’ to see a certain band and an opportunistic man took the chance to simply take me money.”

It can be easy to assume that all online fraudsters are naive men and women from Africa who spend their days typing up ridiculously contrived emails offering millions of pounds in exchange for a simple bank transfer of £100 or so, but unfortunately that’s simply not the case. Although it might be tough to admit, there are many online fraudsters out there who are smart enough to seek out targets and make a quick buck off similarly smart people who simply have their guards down online.

“I was drawn in with an offer which, in reality, was too good to be true. This concert had sold out months ago, so the chance that someone would be willing to sell two tickets at face-value was a little far fetched. I wanted to believe the lie so much that I transferred the money through PayPal without using buyer protection only to be rewarded by the scammer’s profile disappearing and a sickening feeling in my stomach.”

Broken Ovens & Stolen Identities

A broken oven can be a real nuisance, but a stolen identity can be a life ruiner.

Jade Baker got in touch last week to explain how a faulty oven filament led to her almost losing everything she had.

“There’s never a good time to have an oven break down on you, but slap bang in the middle of the week is probably the worst time. I’d spent three years living in this bungalow in North Wales with my Mother and this was just one more thing in a long list of things that had gone wrong starting with my Mum slipping a disc and ending with my identity being stolen. It’s one of those things that you just don’t think will happen to you, it’s not something that I’d ever really heard of, except when watching one of those silly CSI program but it happened to me nonetheless…”

Identity fraud is an increasing problem in the United Kingdom, all age groups are targeted and criminals do not discriminate when it comes to social class or background. In other words, it doesn’t matter how rich you are, where you come from, or what you do for a living – identity thieves will happily take what you have. Over the last few years identity fraud rates have risen dramatically, they now make up of 56% of all frauds. Awareness has been raised by a number of government supported campaigns, but these all too often focus on online fraudsters, without mentioning the threat that con artists and crooks pose in person.

“My first mistake was not going to an official supplier of Britannia cooker accessories and spares, my second was leaving my Mother to welcome a stranger into our home to steal both of our identities. I had no idea that it could be done so easily!”

After ordering her spare parts through a 3rd party site Jade was not told which delivery service would be handling the delivery of her parcel. She left her Mother for the day to go to work simply telling her that a man would be arriving at some point during the day to deliver a package – you could say that it was a stroke of bad luck that a rather industrious conman was making the rounds of her neighbourhood at the same time…

“My Mum told me how kind and generous the man had been, chatting to her on the doorstep and handing her the receipt slip for the package (which ended up being completely false – obviously), it wasn’t until she mentioned making him a cup of tea that a prick of panic set in. I knew she was lonely, but I’d never expect her to abandon all common sense and let a stranger into the house. As soon as she mentioned this I started making an inventory of all the personal files and forms of identity that a fraudster might be looking for and sure enough I saw that bank statements had been snatched from the dresser, along with passports and even a handful of bills.”

“I got in touch with the police straight away and was able to talk to the right people to protect my identity, but had I not twigged sooner we both would have been out on the street. Ironically, the oven part arrived the next day…”

Bike Thieves & Gumtree Sellers

Not-so-hot wheels.

Around 400,000 bikes are stolen every year in the UK, which works out at roughly one bike every 90 seconds…

“Not many people consider ‘professional bike thief’ as a proper criminal occupation, but for 3 years or so I made a pretty decent living out of it…that is, until I was caught.”

Darryl Metcalfe grew up in what could generously be described as a ‘grim northern town‘, a long forgotten corner of England that had seemingly been forgotten by the rest of the world and left to fester in its own retrograde microcosm. A blanket of concrete and cut-price High Street stores with a few faded pubs was all this town had to offer its occupants.

The prospect of ‘getting out’ and escaping the insufferable gloom of this bleak urban existence was less a dream and more of a one-in-a-million chance, a probability that was only rivalled by those of the jackpots on the back of scratchcards that were plastered to the cracked pavements along with limited edition chewing gum flavours attempting to curry favour for England’s Euro ’96 campaign.

“I hated that place. My school was awful, the teachers hated me and I hated them. I knew I wasn’t smart, but they’d tagged me as ‘the wrong sort’ from day one. I never had a chance of getting an education – not the traditional kind that is…’

Darryl lived in 2-bed flat with his Mother. Like many hard-working Mums of the time she didn’t have much time to spend with her son, having to work two jobs throughout the week in order to get enough money together feed to herself and her boy. She felt that as long as she was getting her boy to school and putting food on the table she was doing just fine, to his credit Darryl always tried his best to hide his nefarious actions from his Mum, even when ‘hiding’ meant lying.

“It was a lad in detention who told me about it first. He told me about how he was rolling in money, showed me a wad of cash and told me how easy it was to get it. A good kid would have seen that money and thought better, but by that point in time I’d already given up on being a kid, I wanted money, I wanted a car and I wanted to get out of my town and this looked like the best option to me.”

From 2007-2010 Daryll became the most industrious bike thief in his town. He started small, breaking into sheds with a crowbar at night to take bikes from family homes. He’d then take apart the bikes, respray them and sell them on to online sellers. By randomising his strategy, Darryl was able to leave very little trace of his identity; he used an anonymous burner to contact the bike sellers and soon started ‘upping his game’ – this is when he got into a little hot water.

“The bike that did for me was labelled with a UV marker, registered with the National Bicycle Database. The seller I sold the bike to reported it as stolen and gave the police a description that matched CCTV images of me entering the area. It was only a matter of time before I was caught. After doing my time I was lucky enough to get work in a bike shop, maintaining and fitting out bikes which I’m in charge of legally verifying…it’s a strange old world!”