There is a new type of social media influencer. But instead of promoting clothing brands or lifestyle-related products, they are promoting fraud.
They show off piles of cash, hide their faces, and attract new recruits by selling clues about how the fraud was committed.
You would think it would be hard to find these scammers and their illegal products – and until recently, they were actually hiding in the shadows of the dark web. But not anymore.
As part of an investigation into the BBC Panorama programme, I discovered how easy it is to deal with scammers and buy evidence of fraud online. She also revealed an anonymous influencer who was selling these products.
On social media, online retail scammers refer to this as “clicking” (a reference to the act of “clicking”), which makes it seem harmless.
But committing fraud – defined by the UK Police Department’s Fraud Department as the use of tricks to gain a dishonest, and often financial, advantage over another person – can result in a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
The guides in circulation are known as ‘roads’.
They can target banks, retailers, and even the government’s universal credit system, leaving institutions and individuals bankrupt.
And they all rely heavily on something known as “fullz”, which is an English slang word for “full information” (which translates to “full information”).
It’s someone’s personal data: usually their name, phone number, address, and bank details.
With “fullz” on hand, scammers can follow in the footsteps of guides to shop online or even take out a loan in someone else’s name.
How does this trading data end?
Oftentimes, they come from phishing scams. Those suspicious emails or text messages that pretend to be from legitimate sources and trick victims into revealing their personal information.
Fraudsters themselves sometimes commit or authorize phishing activities, or sometimes obtain information through third parties.
Taking advantage of someone’s “fullz” – making purchases with their data for example – can destroy their credit score.
Bad credit can have serious effects on someone’s life: it affects their chances of applying for a loan, getting a mortgage, or even opening a new bank account.
I reached out to a scammer who was advertising his services on social media, and through a messaging app, he was offered to create a fake website and send me 4,000 phishing texts to get victims’ personal data. Charged £115.
On another Instagram profile, I noticed that a scammer posted some “fullz” – kind of like a free sample, encouraging people to pay for more stolen details. I decided to call some of the phone numbers listed.
It was hard to hear the reaction of a stranger on the other end of the line as I said that his name, address, card details and phone number had been posted online for anyone to see and benefit from.
Then I met one of the victims, Wilson, from Oxford, UK. He said seeing all his details online was scary because it made him realize how unprotected he was.
But why aren’t the people behind these scams arrested?
Jake Moore, an expert on cybercrime, says investigators face an uphill battle to find the culprits.
“Anonymous accounts don’t just leave a small amount of breadcrumbs to investigate—there are no breadcrumbs,” he says.
“No digital trace has been left behind. So investigating this is almost impossible.”
But being a digital influencer inevitably means sharing some elements of your life online — and over time, the influencer has left a lot of evidence behind.
He calls himself Tankz, and in his rap videos online, he brags: “I’m a con artist in London. I see it, I want it, I click.”
Sells evidence of fraud – or ‘methods’.
I impersonated someone interested in learning about scams and texted Tankz about his “tactics” via Instagram. We buy your best guide for £100.
It came in the form of a link, sent through the social network, to access 43 files on a cloud storage system.
The files were full of detailed techniques for exploring online retailers. They also directed potential criminals to sites where they could buy “fullz”.
We wanted to know who this disguised influencer of scams was.
Panorama analyzed the video that Tankz posted on social media and realized that he had revealed a lot of information while trying to remain anonymous.
We noticed a reference to Wembley in north London as his district, a reference to studying economics and finance at university, and glimpsed his license plate.
A clip also showed a very strange black and gray carpet, and we were able to find a reporter on a website that advertised student housing in the Wembley area.
We went there, located the car and waited. Until we saw a man approach the car, he was wearing the same overcoat that Tanks had worn earlier that day in a video posted on social media.
We’ve uncovered the masked crook, but who is he?
Your social media posts are anonymous, but we found your songs are also listed in Apple Music. In one of his tracks, the copyright is not reserved to Tankz, but to what appears to be his real name: Luke Joseph.
It didn’t stop there. We found an email sent from the official address of Tankz that also indicated the same name. There was even an eBay account under the name Tankz, with Luke Joseph as the contact address.
Finally, we found out that someone with the same name lives in the same student residence at Wembley. It looks like Tanks might be a student from London named Luke Joseph.
We’ve reached out to Luke Joseph and Tankz but haven’t come back.
Their accounts on TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat were removed from their social media platforms after Panorama alerted them to the content.
Since then, he has created a new account on TikTok where he continues to post about his life.
But what are the authorities doing to crack down on online fraud and those who promote it?
Earlier this year, the British government revealed plans to curb illegal and harmful digital content. He wants Ofcom, the telecom regulator, to monitor social media and hold the big tech companies to account.
Fraud-related content was not originally included in this online security bill, but at the last minute the government changed its mind.
The word “fraud” is still missing, but it can be covered by what the law calls “illegal content”.
Some expressed concern that this would not specifically address the problem.
Fraud lawyer Arun Chauhan believes the bill is “not fit for purpose in combating fraud.”
But a government spokesperson told Panorama that the new law would “further protect people” from scams, and said they “continue to go after fraudsters” and “end vulnerabilities they exploit”.
TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube told the BBC that they do not allow scams on their platforms.
All of these companies have also stated that they take fraud seriously and consistently crack down on criminal content.
The question is whether they are able to remove it faster than what is being published.
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