Tech giants should face fines when their platforms are used by scammers, the Security Minister has warned, as he takes steps to curb the explosion of fraud in the pandemic.
Damian Hinds revealed that he finds romance fraud – the growing phenomenon in which criminals prey on people looking for love – ‘particularly sickening’, speaking to The Mail on Sunday in his first newspaper interview since taking up his role in August.
‘The ways this is perpetrated and done at scale, it’s a horrible crime,’ Mr Hinds says.
‘It’s very cynical, it plays on our emotions as human beings.
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‘The thought of having been the victim of that kind of deception – it is just a horrible thing to even contemplate.’
The victims are typically women – 60 per cent of cases – and predominantly in their 50s, Mr Hinds says.
Male victims usually fall into two age groups – in their 50s or their 20s, he says, adding: ‘It’s probably a different sort of contact being made’.
The former Education Secretary also points out that large numbers of 30-year-olds fall prey to all kinds of fraud because they spend so much time online – challenging the stereotype that older people are usually targeted most.
Mr Hinds also revealed that his own family had become the targets of online fraudsters while trying to sell second-hand bridesmaid dresses on Gumtree, the free classified advertisements site.
After his two daughters had been bridesmaids a year or so ago, Mr Hinds and his wife Jacqui decided to sell their dresses.
A woman from South Africa offered to buy them, but then began asking for more photographs.
Mr Hinds, 51, recalls: ‘And then, of course, it became: “Great, I’d love to buy them, but I can’t arrange the courier myself, can you just send me £30 to £40 to this account?”
Male victims usually fall into two age groups – in their 50s or their 20s, Security Minister Damian Hinds said, adding: ‘It’s probably a different sort of contact being made’.
‘At that point it didn’t seem right. We said we don’t want to carry on.’
But the potential buyer began emailing again, accusing the couple of breaking a contract and ‘really getting quite aggressive’, Mr Hinds says.
‘No money was lost. but it was a deeply unpleasant experience.’
The East Hampshire MP reported it to Action Fraud, the embattled agency that is now being replaced after numerous complaints about its efficiency.
However. Mr Hinds is clear that tackling fraud is not just a job for the police. ‘We won’t pursue our way out of the problem,’ he says.
He backed calls to fine tech firms being used by fraudsters.
‘Ultimately, there has to be a penalty, right? There has to be something you have to lose,’ the Minister said, adding: ‘I want tech companies to do more.’
There is an imbalance that needs to be addressed, he explains. Banks, whose customers are targeted by criminals are suffering losses every day through fraud. Online companies are not.
The former Education Secretary also points out that large numbers of 30-year-olds fall prey to all kinds of fraud because they spend so much time online – challenging the stereotype that older people are usually targeted most
‘Banks have done quite a lot to try and improve all of our defences to fraud.
‘We need to make sure everybody has those same incentives to minimise and stamp out fraud.’
Fraud has increased by 24 per cent during the pandemic.
Over this summer alone, scammers targeted nearly 45 million people with fraudulent texts and calls. He mimics an explosion with his hands to describe the fraud boom.
Mr Hinds, whose predecessor James Brokenshire died of cancer this month, has a brief that includes counter-terrorism, organised crime, hostile state activity and even maritime security – as well as fraud.
He recently chaired the first meeting of a new taskforce on fraud launched by Priti Patel, which he will run.
It brought together high street banks, accountants and telecommunications companies in an effort to increase coordination.
Mr Hinds is keen to get tech companies around the table soon.
Plans are afoot for a national campaign to raise awareness about fraud. Mr Hinds wants a simple message that can be applied to tackling the many types of fraud.
Tech giants should face fines when their platforms are used by scammers, the Security Minister has warned, as he takes steps to curb the explosion of fraud in the pandemic
He wants it to be ‘distilled down to reusable messages’ that ‘work across different contexts and settings’. He says there is no point in focusing on raising awareness about just one type of scam.
‘Guess what, it goes, and another one pops up,’ Mr Hinds says.
One week on, Mr Hinds says he was ‘devastated’ by the murder of fellow Conservative MP Sir David Amess.
‘Clearly it’s right in the aftermath to review security,’ he says, adding: ‘Local police have been in contact with all of my colleagues to talk about individual arrangements.’
Mr Hinds says there is a ‘legitimate debate’ on remaining anonymous online but points out it ‘plays some important positive roles’, citing victims of domestic abuse and people living under oppressive regimes, as well as the use it served during the Hong Kong protests and the Arab Spring.
He also points out existing powers exist to find and bring people to justice in cases of anonymous abuse and illegality.
‘It is a good thing that we have a debate,’ he says.