Photo Credit: KRiemer / Pixabay
Scam emails designed to look as though they have been sent by the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, have been used to acquire iTunes gift cards from unsuspecting recipients. At least one recipient of the emails was taken in by the fraudsters and ended up £200 out of pocket. The scammers used a Google Gmail account. The victim who fell for the scam was targeted at 12.50 pm BST on Saturday (25 May) – some 16 hours after the Anglican Communion Office informed Google that the email account was being used to commit fraud.
The fraud is committed over several steps culminating in a request to purchase iTunes Gift Cards on behalf of the sender, and to forward the details to a third party. In the fraud committed last week, the recipient was told by the bogus Secretary General that he was stuck in a business meeting and wanted the Gift Cards to be sent to a friend who was in hospital.
This week, a spokesman for the City of London Police, which manages the Action Fraud online reporting tool for all UK police forces, told the Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) that “fraudsters are using online store gift cards to collect money from victims because they can be easily redeemed and sold on. The fraudsters don’t need the physical card to redeem the value and will instead use tactics to persuade victims to purchase gift cards in large amounts and read out the serial code on the back over the phone.”
This type of fraud has increased in recent years. The UK’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau said that in the year from 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2018, losses in excess of £6.5 million were reported through this type of fraud, with the average victim finding themselves £579 out of pocket.
In the US, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that there had been a 95 per cent increase in the number of gift card related fraud in the past year. The FTC said that it was aware of fraud totalling $20 million USD in 2015, (approximately £15.9 million GBP), $27 million in 2016 and $40 million in 2017. By September last year the total had already reached $53 million.
According to the FTC, almost a quarter (23.7 per cent) of gift card fraud in 2018 involved Apples iTunes Gift Cards. Other brands targetted included Google Play (18.3 per cent), MoneyPak (3.5 per cent), Amazon (2.5 per cent) and Steam (2.3 per cent).
The increase in gift card fraud follows a clamp down on so-called “wire transfer fraud”. The US Department of Justice and the FTC took Western Union to court, claiming that it was facilitating the fraud by not have sufficient procedures in place to stop it. In January 2017 Western Union admitted breaching US banking and anti-fraud laws by unwittingly processing hundreds of thousands of scam transactions. Western Union agreed to hand back $586 million USD (approximately £465 million GBP) to victims and a website was created to process claims.
While Apple are not the perpetrators of the fraud, they are an unwitting beneficiary. The company declined to tell ACNS whether it had identified how much money it had made as a result of the scam. When asked what measures it took to clamp down on the fraud, the company declined to comment beyond saying that it has a web page warning about the fraud, and that its iTunes Gift Cards contains the words “Do not share your code with anyone you do not know” printed on them.
ACNS contacted Google to ask why one of its email addresses was able to be used for fraudulent purposes more than 16 hours after the scam had been reported to them. The company acknowledged that it had received our enquiry, but declined to provide an explanation or comment.
“The cost of gift card fraud is high, both financially and emotionally”, The City of London Police’s National Coordinator for Economic Crime, Commander Karen Baxter, said. “Cruel fraudsters will prey on some of the most vulnerable members of society for their own personal gain, using every trick in the book to exploit money out of their victims.
“We are working closely with retailers to stop these fraudsters in their tracks and to raise awareness of this type of fraud.
“We urge people to #StayTunedToFraud to spot the signs of these scams in order to protect themselves.”
The Anglican Communion’s Director for Communications, Gavin Drake, said: “Staff at the Anglican Communion Office will never ask people to order Gift cards on their behalf. We are aware that this type of forged identify fraud is very common. People should be vigilant when receiving such requests.”