Page last updated at 02:26 GMT, Friday, 17 October 2008 03:26 UK

Police stalking cyber fraudsters

By Ben Ando
Crime reporter, BBC News

DC Kevin Ives talks about a raid on a house in the hunt for a suspect

It was a dawn raid with a difference.

No flak jackets, no helmets and no-one was carrying a "key" - the metal pipe used by police to break down locked doors.

Instead, fraud officers from the City of London Police, accompanied by two computer experts from the Serious Organised Crime Agency, knocked on the innocuous front door of the home in north London and told the residents they were coming in.

They found their 19-year-old target immediately.

He was made to sit on a chair and be cautioned as his computers, laptops, mobile phones and PDAs were seized and his bewildered parents, brothers and sisters looked on.

The man under arrest is accused of being a member of Darkmarket - the secret internet forum for criminals where fake IDs, credit card details, PIN codes and personal data are traded and everything is available - for a price.

Electronic trail

The FBI infiltrated the site two years ago and has spent this long gathering evidence against the members.

Criminals think when they go online that they are anonymous
Kevin Ives, City of London Police

Computer experts working for the police - some former hackers themselves - had tracked e-mails and other electronic clues to this address in a quiet residential street.

"Criminals think when they go online that they are anonymous," explained fraud officer Kevin Ives.

"But there is always an electronic trail that we can follow and we will come after them."

And it is not just this one teenager. In all, there have been 11 arrests in the UK in London, Manchester and Leicester, along with similar seizures in the United States, Germany, Turkey and other areas of Western Europe.

In total, nearly 60 people are in custody, and police believe they have rounded up all the ringleaders of Darkmarket - the invitation-only site dedicated to offering criminals a forum for buying and selling goods and services and swapping criminal expertise.

In the UK, the operation was co-ordinated by Soca.

It is keen to reassure the public that action is being taken against cyber criminals, but admits the scale of the problem is hard to quantify.

Other sites

"We know there were 2,000 registered 'nicks', or nicknames, on the site," explains Soca's Sharon Lemon.

"But not all of those will be unique users.

"Some will be defunct. In other cases one user will have several different identities on the site."

Speaking about another similar case, she said: "We did arrest one man who had, in just six weeks, spent 250,000 and in return had obtained information and numbers that if used would have made him around 10m."

Soca admits that now Darkmarket has been taken down, another similar site may well spring up to replace it.

But the agency claims it is constantly refining its own techniques and is hoping that as more and more of the ringleaders are arrested, tried and possibly jailed, other criminals may decide that online at least, crime does not pay.

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