City of London Police investigation results in jail for crime gang who sold counterfeit, money drugs and firearms

Several members of an organised crime gang

involved in the sale of counterfeit currency, drugs

and firearms have been jailed.

The investigation into the gang by the City of

London Police began in November 2017, after

information was received that the group leader,

Darren Watkinson, was supplying counterfeit bank notes.

Buyers could purchase counterfeit £20 notes for between £3.50 and £5.80 a note, or counterfeit £50 notes for £12.50 a note, through Watkinson. They would then pick up the counterfeit money from Watkinson’s associates: William Fullerton, Mario Abela and Adam Abela (father and son).

During the investigation, officers also established the group had access to cocaine and amphetamine. Additionally, some members of the gang were conspiring to supply a firearm. This included Barry Latif, who was arrested by armed officers in possession of a revolver.

On Friday 25 September 2020, the following members of the group were sentenced at Inner London Crown Court after pleading guilty to all charges:

Darren Watkinson, 45, of London Road, Essex, was sentenced to 10 years and four months in jail for:
• conspiracy to have custody or control of a counterfeit note with intent;
• conspiracy to sell or transfer a firearm;
• possessing a prohibited weapon (CS gas); and
• possessing a controlled drug of Class A with intent.

William Fullerton, 38, of Ballinger Point, Bromley, was sentenced to nine years and six months in jail for:
• conspiracy to have custody or control of a counterfeit note with intent; and
• conspiracy to sell or transfer a firearm.

 

Adam Abela, 34, of Langland Close, Essex, was sentenced to four years in jail for:

• conspiracy to have custody or control of a counterfeit note with intent; and
• possessing a controlled drug of Class B with intent.

 

Mario Abela, 68, of Langland Close, Essex, was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment, suspended for two years, for:
• conspiracy to have custody or control of a counterfeit note with intent; and
• possessing a controlled drug of Class A.

 

Barry Latif, 44, of Chapman Street, Tower Hamlets, was sentenced to seven years in jail on the same date after a previous trial had found him guilty of conspiracy to sell or transfer a firearm. He had pleaded guilty to being in possession of the weapon in a public place and also a pointed or bladed article.

 

Detective Constable Sally Prinsloo, who led the investigation for the City of London Police, said: ‘The City of London Police is committed to disrupting serious and organised crime. We worked tirelessly to dismantle this crime group, who were selling counterfeit money, drugs and firearms, with input from our partners at the Bank of England and the National Crime Agency’s Counterfeit Currency Unit (UKNCO).’

From left to right: Adam Abela, Barry Latif, Darren Watkinson, William Fullerton

Scheme that alerts police to suspected fraud scams prevents £19m of fraud

A scheme called the Banking Protocol that enables bank branch staff to alter police to suspected

fraud scams has prevented £19 million of fraud in the first half of 2020.

A range of scams that trick elderly and vulnerable customers into withdrawing cash from their

branch have been prevented, including courier scams, romance fraud and rogue traders.

Customers helped through the initiative are typically aged 65 or above, with some over a

hundred years old.

Alert

The Banking Protocol scheme is now being expanded to telephone and online banking. It is a UK-wide scheme that enables bank branch staff to alert their local police force when they suspect a customer is being scammed.

Police will then visit the branch to investigate the suspected fraud and arrest any suspects still on the scene.

£19.3 million of fraud was prevented and over a hundred arrests were made through the scheme between January and June 2020.

Prevention

The latest figures mean the scheme has prevented victims losing a total of £116 million of fraud and led to 744 arrests since it was first introduced three years ago by UK Finance, National Trading Standards and local police forces.

The scheme is often used to prevent impersonation scams, in which criminals imitate police or bank staff and convince people to visit their bank and withdraw or transfer large sums of money.

These can include courier scams, where those targeted are persuaded to take out a large sum of cash and hand it over to a fraudster posing as a courier.

 

They can also include safe account scams, where the victims are told their money isn’t safe in the account it’s currently in and needs to be transferred to another account.

Victims

The initiative has also been used to prevent romance fraud, in which fraudsters use fake online dating profiles to trick victims into transferring money, and to catch rogue traders who prey on the elderly by demanding cash for unnecessary work on their property.

Branch staff are trained to spot the warning signs that suggest someone may have fallen for one of these scams and make an emergency call to the police. 3,250 calls have been made in the first six months of this year through the scheme, including 637 in June.

Data provided by police forces shows that customers helped through the Banking Protocol are typically aged over 65 while some were over a hundred years old, demonstrating how these scams are often targeted towards the elderly and vulnerable.

Transfers

To build on the success of the scheme, discussions are currently underway with local police forces over expanding it to cover attempted bank transfers made by customers through telephone and online banking.

This would enable bank staff at call centres to notify police when certain attempted bank transfers are being made which they believe may be the result of a scam, in situations where the customer is unable to visit their local branch to enable further checks.

National Cyber Security Centre reports increase in university malware attacks

The National Cyber Security Centre has been investigating an increased number of

ransomware attacks affecting education establishments in the UK, including schools, colleges

and universities.

Since August 2020, the NCSC has been investigating an increased number of ransomware

attacks affecting education establishments in the UK, including schools, colleges and

universities.

Due to the prevalence of these attacks, the NCSC is advising organisations to follow the you

should be sure to follow NCSC’s recently 

updated mitigating malware and ransomware guidance.

This will help put in place a strategy to defend against ransomware attacks, as well as planning and rehearsing ransomware scenarios, in the event that defences are breached.

Encrypted

Ransomware is a type of malware that prevents you from accessing your systems or the data held on them. Typically, the data is encrypted, but it may also be deleted or stolen, or the computer itself may be made inaccessible.

Following the initial attack, those responsible will usually send a ransom note demanding payment to recover the data. They will typically use an anonymous email address (for example ProtonMail) to make contact and will request payment in the form of a crypto currency.

More recently, there has been a trend for cyber criminals to also threaten to release sensitive data stolen from the network during the attack, if the ransom is not paid. There are many high-profile cases where the cyber criminals have followed through with their threats by releasing sensitive data to the public, often via “name and shame” websites on the darknet.

Common ransomware infection vectors

Ransomware attackers can gain access to a victim’s network through a number of infection vectors. Indeed, it can be hard to predict how a compromise will begin, as cyber criminals adjust their attack strategy depending on the vulnerabilities they find. However, in recent incidents, the NCSC has observed the following trends:

Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is one of the main protocols used for remote desktop sessions, enabling employees to access their office desktop computers or servers from another device over the internet.

Insecure RDP configurations are frequently used by ransomware attackers to gain initial access to victims’ devices. Often, the attacker has previous knowledge of user credentials, through phishing attacks, from data breaches, and credential harvesting. User credentials have also been discovered through brute force attacks because of ineffective password policies.

Vulnerable Software or Hardware: Unpatched or unsecure devices have commonly been used by ransomware attackers as an easy route into networks.

Phishing emails are frequently used by actors to deploy ransomware. These emails encourage users to open a malicious file or click on a malicious link that hosts the malware.

Upon initial access to a network, an attacker will attempt to move around the network and to increase their privileges and seek out high-value systems, often using additional tooling to assist with this. They will also attempt to cover their tracks so that any subsequent investigation will be more difficult.

Recently, attackers have also been seen to sabotage backup or auditing devices to make recovery more difficult, encrypt entire virtual servers and use scripting environments (i.e. PowerShell) to easily deploy tooling or ransomware.

The NCSC recommends that organisations implement a ‘defence in depth’ strategy to defend against malware and ransomware attacks.

Further details are can be found in the NCSC’s recently updated guidance on ‘Mitigating Malware and Ransomware’.

White Paper sets out government plans for sentencing reform

The Government has launched a White Paper called ‘A Smarter Approach to Sentencing’ that

sets out its proposals to deliver on manifesto commitments to reform the sentencing and

release framework in England and Wales.

It says that our current sentencing and release framework is failing to give victims and the

wider public the confidence they should have in our criminal justice system.

It believes that too often the time offenders spend in prison does not match the severity of

the crime, with some of the most serious criminals being released after serving only half their

sentence.

It proposes to reform the sentencing and release framework to complement the raft of

initiatives we it says it is taking forward as a government to fight crime and protect the public

from its devastating consequences.

A Smarter Approach to Sentencing sets out our plans to achieve this through a combination of proposals for legislation which the Government will bring forward next year, as well as broader areas for reform.

To access the White Paper, go to:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/918187/a-smarter-approach-to-sentencing.pdf