Mastermind in online fraud scam nears freedom: Evidence stolen from cops

The main sus­pect, be­lieved to have scammed hun­dreds of peo­ple of their hard-earned mon­ey through on­line fraud, may es­cape be­ing charged.

This af­ter valu­able ev­i­dence was stolen from right un­der the noses of the po­lice.

Guardian Me­dia was told that the ev­i­dence im­pli­cat­ing the sus­pect, was se­cret­ly re­moved while it was lodged with the T&T Fraud Squad.

The sus­pect was in cus­tody at the time it was re­moved. An in­ves­ti­ga­tion has since been launched to find out who stole the ev­i­dence.

The vic­tims of the bank fraud are cus­tomers of Sco­tia­bank, which in No­vem­ber, is­sued an ap­peal to all its cus­tomers not to re­veal con­fi­den­tial bank in­for­ma­tion elec­tron­i­cal­ly.

The 40-year-old sus­pect, who lives in the East-West Cor­ri­dor, is said to be the mas­ter­mind be­hind the on­line fraud rack­et us­ing soft­ware to ex­e­cute his heists.

Over the past few months, a spe­cial po­lice team was set up to deal with on­line fraud. The elite team con­duct­ed a probe in­to re­ports of phish­ing, a type of on­line fraud in which a cus­tomer is sent an il­le­git­i­mate e-mail from the “bank” ask­ing for cred­it card in­for­ma­tion.

The fraud­ster usu­al­ly di­rects the cus­tomer to what ap­pears to be the bank’s web­site with a sim­i­lar LO­GO and URL. Po­lice said crim­i­nals have re­moved mon­ey from ac­counts with­in a cou­ple of hours via phish­ing.

The source said af­ter the sus­pect was ar­rest­ed sev­er­al crit­i­cal pieces of elec­tron­ics in­clud­ing a lap­top and soft­ware were seized from the sus­pect’s premis­es.

The of­fi­cers ques­tioned the sus­pect for sev­er­al hours. The elec­tron­ics were then tak­en to the Cy­ber Crime and Analy­sis Unit but when the po­lice got there they were in­formed by the Cy­ber Crime of­fi­cers that the lap­top’s hard dri­ve was miss­ing.

Some­one ap­par­ent­ly un­screwed the bot­tom of the lap­top and took out the hard dri­ve which is an electro­mechan­i­cal da­ta stor­age de­vice that us­es mag­net­ic stor­age to store and re­trieve dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion. All ev­i­dence had dis­ap­peared and the po­lice said with­out the ev­i­dence there is no proof to lay charges.

The sus­pect was charged with sev­er­al mi­nor of­fences un­re­lat­ed to the elec­tron­ic ev­i­dence that dis­ap­peared.

Last month, Sco­tia­bank T&T ad­vised its cus­tomers not to re­spond to a se­ries of unau­tho­rised text mes­sages be­ing cir­cu­lat­ed in the pub­lic do­main which re­quest­ed con­fi­den­tial bank in­for­ma­tion.

Say­ing the mes­sages were fraud­u­lent and con­sid­ered “phish­ing” Sco­tia­bank ad­vised clients to not re­spond to the texts, open at­tach­ments or click on links.

Say­ing the mes­sages should be delet­ed, Sco­tia­bank ad­vised that it will nev­er send un­so­licit­ed text mes­sages ask­ing for con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion such as an ATM pin.

Any­one who en­tered per­son­al in­for­ma­tion by click­ing on a link or sus­pect fraud­u­lent be­hav­iour was ad­vised to call 62-SCO­TIA (627-2684).

CNC3’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­er Samp­son Nan­ton, who was the vic­tim of on­line fraud on De­cem­ber 21 in which his en­tire salary was wiped clean, said the re­cent ar­rest of a sus­pect and the re­moval of ev­i­dence was dis­tress­ing.

In a What­sapp mes­sage, Nan­ton wrote, “See­ing the re­spons­es of peo­ple fol­low­ing my post on what oc­curred to me, I have an even greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion for what the vic­tims go through.”

He added, “ Even as I write this I’m in a bank line over-hear­ing some­one com­plain­ing of the same thing. I’m grate­ful that my bank recog­nised there was a prob­lem in the first place and called me. But it’s sad to know that so many peo­ple are los­ing funds to crim­i­nals who re­al­ly don’t care about the im­pact it has on peo­ple’s lives. And while most banks even­tu­al­ly re­fund the vic­tims, some­times it takes so long that the im­pact is felt heav­i­ly.”

Nan­ton said he was hope­ful that the po­lice will get to the bot­tom of the scam soon and some re­al tough penal­ties will be giv­en to the per­pe­tra­tors as well.

Reporter: Radhica De Silva