A stolen vehicle has been recovered from Brussels after a
cross-border investigation involving identity theft on the dark web.
Presenting a huge challenge to law enforcement agencies, the
dark web is primarily a marketplace for illicit activities where there are no
rules or safeguards and almost anything can be traded including people,
identities and drugs with little chance of being caught.
The latest case came about after fraudsters used stolen
identities - offered for sale on the dark web - to report a collision between a
Mercedes S-Class and a Range Rover Evoque in South East London, according to
anti-motor fraud expert APU, which is owned by Accident Exchange.
After securing a high value replacement car following the
fictitious crash, the criminals triggered an alert from its telematics device
as it approached the Channel Tunnel - often a sign a vehicle is about to leave
the country - sparking a cross-border investigation.
APU moved to track down the driver and vehicle because in
most cases permission to travel abroad is required. However, the vehicle was
traced to Brussels, and efforts to contact the person believed to have hired
the replacement vehicle failed.
Neil Thomas, director of investigative services at APU,
said: “Timing is everything and the decision to intervene or wait could be the
difference between getting the vehicle back and never seeing it again. Our
assessment was that the vehicle had been stolen and that we could be dealing
Field-based investigators were sent to the home address of
the person who apparently hired the vehicle, while Mr Thomas and a colleague
drove to Brussels to locate and, if required, recover the car.
It was discovered that the vehicle driver had disabled the
inbuilt telematics system and tracker, leaving only APU’s secondary technology
in place, but that allowed the company to pinpoint the vehicle to a residential
address in Ghent.
Meanwhile the field-based team discovered that the man
thought to have hired the vehicle was completely unaware of the unfolding
drama, so the car was seized by APU and brought back to the UK.
Both drivers alleged to have been involved in the original
collision had now been contacted and ruled out as potential suspects of the
vehicle theft. They were in fact victims of fraud, according to APU, which
claimed that the dark web was fuelling a surge in organised crime involving
identity theft and insurance fraud.
Mr Thomas said: “Our team discovered that the identities
were stolen and offered for sale on the dark web - they were unaware of the
crash and the ensuing investigation. The dark web is a gift to fraudsters; they
can buy the personal details of innocent people, take out insurance policies
and come up with scams like this. We must raise awareness of the threat among
the public and industry.
“It can be an absolute nightmare for the victims, who then
have to prove their innocence and can potentially have ongoing issues accessing
credit or insurance products.”
The fraud and theft have been reported to the National Fraud
Reporting Centre and the Insurance Fraud Bureau has also been informed.
“Tackling complex fraud cases has to be done by improving
communication and collaboration. We know that fraud is changing and evolving,
with new tactics all of the time, so halting organised crime such as this is a
huge challenge,” said Mr Thomas.
APU has issued three steps to avoid identity theft or
insurance fraud via the dark web:
- Report any theft of identification documents to
the appropriate authorities
- Don’t give away too much personal information on
social media which could help fraudsters assume your identity and hack your
- Regularly check your credit reference files and
bank statements and consider extra ID theft protection if you feel you are at