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Tuesday, February 3, 1998 Published at 14:57 GMT


Intelligence agencies team up to tackle cost of crime
image: [ The MI6 building in London: the secret service will help tackle fraud ]
The MI6 building in London: the secret service will help tackle fraud

Britain's intelligence agencies are joining forces to tackle fraud and other crime carried out by West African gangs in the United Kingdom.

The National Criminal Intelligence Service initiative aims to reduce the 3.5bn it says is lost each year through fraud committed by the gangs.

[ image: This fake letter asked for 150,000]
This fake letter asked for 150,000
Other criminal activities attributed to the mainly Nigerian networks include cocaine dealing, illegal immigration rackets and confidence tricks.

One favoured tactic is to send persuasive letters to businesses asking for cash in return for getting money out of African countries such as Nigeria.

In just two months suspicious firms have handed over 35,000 letters to police.

It is thought at least one per cent of approaches result in cash being sent to the gangs.

[ image: Just some of the 35,000 letters from African conmen]
Just some of the 35,000 letters from African conmen
Detective Superintendent Bryan Drew, of NCIS, said: "The people who fall for these letters are from three categories - the greedy out to make a quick buck, those who think it is a legitimate approach and the vulnerable."

The discovery of members of fraud rings working inside British Government departments led to the new crackdown.

In one of the worst examples, a worker at the Department of Social Security was found to have created thousands of fake National Insurance numbers and identification cards to allow people to defraud the benefit system.

In such cases, the secret services MI5 and MI6 will work alongside the intelligence service and the armed forces, using bugging and surveillance techniques to gather evidence.

The NCIS says the Nigerian gangs, which have some members from the neighbouring state of Ghana, have evolved into worldwide organisations.

They have connections in Europe, the United States and Asia, which have hampered efforts to infiltrate and destroy them.

The new initiative includes setting up a special unit to liaise with the authorities in countries like Nigeria.

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