back to article In America, tech support conmen get a mild slap. In Blighty, scammers get the book thrown at them

Two bogus technical support operations have been shut down over the past two days – but the punishment dished out highlights eyebrow-raising differences between the US and UK in how they deal with these scumbags. On Monday, the US Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement with six people accused of running a technical …

  1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Too mild in both cases

    The punishment in both cases is nowhere near serving as a deterrent for the next lot to try the scam.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Too mild in both cases

      True, but long gone are the days when we could simply drag the bastards into the middle of town, strip them bare, & whip them. I think the third offense was generally a hangman's noose which pretty much put an end to your criminal ways.

      1. Oliver Mayes

        Re: Too mild in both cases

        Hanging has a very low rate of reoffending.

        1. JimmyPage Silver badge
          Stop

          RE: Hanging has a very low rate of reoffending.

          Well, if you hang the right person, that's true.

          But as the Christie case shows, hang the wrong person, and you increase crime, as the real offender is still free and the police aren't looking for them ... because they hanged them.

          I tend to find proponents of capital punishment rarely think things through.

          1. omnicent

            Re: RE: Hanging has a very low rate of reoffending.

            errr did you see the Troll icon?

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: RE: Hanging has a very low rate of reoffending.

            @JimmyPage

            Fully agree. There's also the point that these days you'd very probably find at least one jury member dissenting on principle. Would it be acceptable to take someone's life on the basis of a majority verdict? If not what does it say about other offences where a majority verdict is accepted?

          3. Cynic_999 Silver badge

            Re: RE: Hanging has a very low rate of reoffending.

            Most criminals do not think there is a significant chance of being caught, so the severity of the punishment makes little difference to whether they will commit the crime or not. However, the severity of the punishment *does* affect the average severity of the crime. A shoplifter facing a small fine will probably submit to arrest. A shoplifter facing the gallows will do everything in his power to avoid capture, including murder - they have nothing whatsoever to lose.

            Plus the effect of society as a whole is that human life is in general devalued, and the entire society becomes more brutal. If hanging is an appropriate punishment for theft, then using a poker to sodomize a child trying to scrump apples is letting them off lightly.

          4. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: RE: Hanging has a very low rate of reoffending.

            But as the Christie case shows, hang the wrong person, and you increase crime, as the real offender is still free and the police aren't looking for them ... because they hanged them.

            I always thought Agatha Christie died of natural causes?

        2. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: Too mild in both cases

          To use the old cowboy movie cliché: "Hangin' is too good for them.". So perhaps drawing and quartering with their skulls stuck on a post outside the courthouse?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Too mild in both cases

        Brexit is coming

      3. Pascal Monett Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: "[..] the days when we could simply drag the bastards into the middle of town..."

        Ah, the good ol' days. When men were men, women were obedient and whoever hung from a branch was scum.

        How did it come to this ?

      4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Too mild in both cases

        "I think the third offense was generally a hangman's noose"

        If you couldn't afford to pay a fine nobody was counting. From Wakefield Court Rolls, 1315:

        "John de Blakhoumore, taken at the suit of Roger Walgar of Almanbury, for breaking into his house at Almanbury, and stealing goods and chattels, value 10s., which goods were found in his possession and are brought into court, is asked what defence he can make for the said burglary and theft; he pleads not guilty. An inquisition...finds him guilty. He is ordered to be hanged. He has no goods."

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Too mild in both cases

      Just put them on a real tech support help desk for people with qualifications in things like html, you know the ones that always know better than you.

    3. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Too mild in both cases

      So, actually, US case is 0 jail time and $150k fine, UK case is 0 jail time and 9-month curfew. Lacking any further details as to any fines in the UK case, and whether either guilty plea includes recovery of frudulently obtained assets, I would say that the US case was more lenient, not less.

      In both cases I would expect coplete recovery of fraudulently obtained assets, plus fines, plus a few months in the slammer. After all anyone for example hacking a bank system to earn a few millions would be sent to jail.

      1. joed Silver badge

        Re: Too mild in both cases

        I'd say that US case at least resulted in a fine (while the UK defendant will wear a bracelet and wear relaxed fit jeans to cover it for 9 months). BTW, looks like US court system will be sole beneficiary - if they set the fine right, the scammer may consider the price of conducting business. Win, win (but for scammed saps).

      2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Too mild in both cases

        If the US scum had the wherewithal to fund a large number of LLCs, set up all the phone lines, etc, they should have hit them for a lot more than a hundred K in fines.

        Who am I kidding...the current US government thinks banks are over-regulated and thus, can't compete.

        I'm wondering how long it's going to take for the next 2008-type crash.

        1. streaky Silver badge

          Re: Too mild in both cases

          I'm wondering how long it's going to take for the next 2008-type crash.

          Not that long but the eurozone banks still haven't fixed the structural issues that caused 2008, US banks have. Next crash aint coming from the US.

      3. SysKoll
        FAIL

        Re: Too mild in both cases

        Darn right. The Ohio scammer got a slap on the wrist, and the UK scammer got a sternly wagged finger in his face. Oh the horror.

        I fail to see what allows Mr. Thomson to be so smug about the way the UK courts dealt with that scam. It is actually even less of a deterrent than what the moronic FTC milquetoasts did.

    4. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: Too mild in both cases

      There was a suggestion the last time I got a call in the office from one of these people that they should be forced to watch endless repeats of Loose Women*. This was deemed a cruel and unusual punishment and therefore shouldn't be used. We then came up with the idea that they should be made tech support teacher for an old peoples home for 6 months. This was reinforced by last Fridays On Call.

      *We'd just got a TV license in the office for the World Cup and had switched to ITV thinking the news was on at 1pm (like the BBC) which it wasn't.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Too mild in both cases

        "switched to ITV thinking the news was on at 1pm (like the BBC)"

        There's a pathetic excuse if ever I heard one.

    5. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Too mild in both cases

      perhaps we need to add "special place in hell" and "one way ticket to hell" as potential punishments...

    6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Too mild in both cases

      "The punishment in both cases is nowhere near serving as a deterrent for the next lot to try the scam."

      True. It seems in the US, the scammers "go large" and then end up paying large chunks of their "profits" to the government while in the UK it's on a smaller scale and the fines are also on a small scale. In neither case do the scammed get any of the cash back.

  2. Alister Silver badge

    You seem to be suggesting that the British punishment - suspended jailtime - is the more severe punishment, but the American imposition of a stiff fine seems to me to be the one which will actually have an immediate effect on the scammers.

    1. Dog Eatdog

      $150,000 split between about a dozen people and companies doesn't sound like a big deal to me.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
        Coat

        I eagerly wait to see your check for $12000 to the Red Cross.

        1. kain preacher Silver badge

          Missing a few 0's

        2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          "

          I eagerly wait to see your check for $12000 to the Red Cross.

          "

          If that's what I need to do in order to scam £10 million, you can have it with pleasure.

      2. maffski

        '$150,000 split between about a dozen people and companies doesn't sound like a big deal to me.'

        Rather depends how much money they actually made with the scam doesn't it?

        1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Rather depends how much money they actually made with the scam doesn't it?

          If the $150K isn't significantly MORE (2-3x more) than they made with the scam, it's not much of a deterrent, is it?

          1. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge
            WTF?

            We're missing the point with the US fine. It's a kick-back and everyone of any importance (from a capitalist point of view) has made a profit! win!

            Paying a percentage of your profit to the government to avoid penalties such as jail etc. ; It's kinda like bribing a police officer.

      3. jmch Silver badge

        "$150,000 split between about a dozen people and companies doesn't sound like a big deal to me."

        True, but still more than zero, as in the UK case

    2. Steven Burn

      $150,000 on the millions they make, is insignificant. (aka the cost of doing business)

  3. Lars Silver badge
    Joke

    Look at the bright side, outside of the EU you can introduce the death sentence again to have better parity with the USA.

    1. JimmyPage Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Downvoted

      because it's wrong (despite the Joke Alert) and it panders to the morons who confuse the ECHR with the EU (helped by the morons at the BBC who never correct them in "debates").

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Downvoted

        I guess that acronym is "European Court of Human Rights" ? If they are going to veto any death penalty suggested by anyone signed up to their rule book then dosent that mean that The US are Human Rights violators? (apart from they aint in Europe and arnt signed up) , but still , shouldnt we be looking at Americans as savages and imposing sanctions or whatever , just like some of the less reputable dominions of the middle east? or even the More Respectable ones , Like Saudi Arabia , who've been quietly disapearing people recently , fund terrorism , and have a horrific record on womens rights, In fact why are they the respectable ones ? ... oh yeah , they have lots of cash and like to buy aeroplanes. and not the nice type of aeroplanes that take you on holiday - the ones that rain down death from the skies ....

        </carriedaway>

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          Re: Downvoted

          You guessed wrong. It's the European Convention on Human Rights, a treaty drafted by the Council of Europe and signed in 1950, large swathes of which were written by Brits. This pre-dates the Treaty of Rome (in 1957) and thus the EEC, later EU by several years. The other 'ECHR', teh court that arbitrates over the convention is usually abbreviated to ECtHR to distinguish it, and also is not an EU body.

          The signatories to the ECHR include all EU member states (it is a precondition to joining the EU), as well as several other countries, for example former Balkan states, Russia, Greenland, etc., but, as you correctly observe, not the US.

          The bit concerning the death penalty is Protocol 6:

          Wikipedia article

  4. balrog

    Its perfectly logical, run you scams in the US and live in the Uk where the health care is and the guns aren't. Have your extradition lawyer on speed dial

    1. Aitor 1 Silver badge

      UK-US

      Problem is, if you are un the uk, they would get you on federal crimes.. this is why they only conducted crimes in their own state.. they might be criminals, but not stupid ones.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: "they would get you on federal crimes"

        Um, I don't think the FBI has jurisdiction on UK territory.

        Yet.

        1. BoldMan

          Re: "they would get you on federal crimes"

          Try telling the FBI that!

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: "they would get you on federal crimes"

          "Um, I don't think the FBI has jurisdiction on"

          That's why they have the CIA.

        3. Steven Burn

          Re: "they would get you on federal crimes"

          I'll take that bet!

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
      Pint

      the Uk where the health care is and the guns aren't.

      haha, nice one, i like that

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tagged curfew

    What does that achieve?

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: Tagged curfew

      A mild punishment that doesn't prevent him getting an honest job.

      In some cases it may have a rehabilitation benefit too because it reduces the probability of offenders associating with trouble makers or being in a position to commit opportunistic crime.

      In this case we don't know from the reporting if that's relevant, but it does look like just a cheap sentencing option.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Tagged curfew

        well it wont have any effect on wether they reoffend with the same crime , as that dosent involve going outside.

      2. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

        Re: Tagged curfew

        I seem to recall a piece in El Reg concerning the contracts around this system being upgraded.The bit about Crapita having the monitoring contract. Now, how effective is that?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In the UK I would have thought the punishment a fine commensurate with any money they had obtained. Then community service - with a suspended sentence in case they shirked.

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      "In the UK I would have thought the punishment a fine commensurate with any money they had obtained. "

      They can still go after him under the Proceeds of Crime Act now he has been convicted.

  7. Colonel Mad

    Locking people up is expensive, so there is merit in both approaches, it is in cases like these where the "Proceeds of Crime Act" really needs to come into play.

  8. John Savard Silver badge

    Inadequate

    They should first be required to provide full restitution to all their victims. Nothing about this was noted among what happened in either country. If they are unable to do that, their jail terms should be longer ones. Clearly, the penalty is inadequate unless the result is that no one ever tries that sort of thing ever again; anything less is not actually working as a deterrent.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      I've always thought that criminals should first and foremost be made to pay damages to their victims, meaning at least 100% of what their victims lost, whenever possible. Then, of course, they pay the cost of their court case, whatever that may be.

      They get out of jail when they've paid up. If they can't pay (because they killed the victim), they never get out.

      Seems to me that would simplify things greatly. Judge and jury must only find guilt. If guilty, definition of the amount to pay with the previous guidelines. No mucking about with how many years for a murder vs how many for purse-snatching. You're in until you've cleared your debt to society and that's all.

      And, since you clear your debt on prison terms, son of rich daddy gets to stay in as long as son of cobbler for the same amount of debt. No external funding allowed.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        But if you dead-end people like that, you run the risk of Nothing-To-Lose rampages. Consider the rise in crime rates among those with "two strikes".

        1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

          We have Three-Strikes here in California and yes this is a thang. Unintended consequences and all that.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "If you were a scammer, which nation would you prefer to operate in?"

    As far as I can tell, the ones who ring me are based in India....

    1. NightFox

      Nonsense. I can tell they're based locally because they're always called Steve and comment on how nice/nasty the weather is in <insert customer's town here> today.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      In this case, looking at most of the names, Ohindia and Britindia...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A real solution

    Make them clean social media.

    Who wants the job of reviewing posts on Facebook et al, for kiddie pr0nz, graphic violence, etc? No one wants that job but there are folk out there that have to do it. Could you imagine having to do that for a living, day-in day-out? We need "Sin Eaters" but it's an important role which has a high burn-out rate of some fine, upstanding individuals that volunteer themselves to take a psychological digital bullet for the greater good.

    Make these clowns clean social media so that decent people don't have to be subject to the horrors of the internet for a job. It would be the digital equivalent of picking litter whilst wearing an orange jumpsuit. In fact, make them wear the orange jumpsuit while they're at it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A real solution

      "No one wants that job but there are folk out there that have to do it."

      Some people seem to take on those tasks voluntarily - possibly bolstering their self-identity as being one of the "good" people. There was a policeman who specialised in such cases. When he took a staff cutting early retirement he was then re-employed in effectively the same role as a civilian. Personally I would have thought that he would have been glad to get out.

      It often seems that there should be syndrome labelled as "Red Dragon" - which our ancestors called "set a thief to catch a thief".

  11. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Bastards!

    I'm getting about eight scam calls a day, all from India. The latest one is from the "Telephone Preference Scheme", they say that I need to renew my subscription. (with my credit card!)

    If I'm in a good mood* I will string them along for a while then ask if their children or parents know that they're a criminal. (family "honour" and all that)

    At that point they hang up and hopefully I have ruined their day.

    *Not very often due to hearing Trump talking bullshit again. Just seeing his traitorous face is making me depressed.

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: Bastards!

      "If I'm in a good mood* I will string them along for a while then ask if their children or parents know that they're a criminal."

      Mother-in-law is a good one for people from the subcontinent. Telling one of them that his MIL would probably demand the dowry back if she knew how he earned his money caused him to become almost incandescent with rage.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Bastards!

        "MIL would probably demand the dowry back"

        I wish I got these calls , I'd like to try that one ..

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Bastards!

          And if they answer, "Who do you think taught me to do this?"

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Bastards!

            "And if they answer, "Who do you think taught me to do this?"

            Funny you should say that. It made me think. I don't recall any scam/survey call from someone with an Indian sounding accent being from a woman. It's always men. Has anyone here had an Indian woman phone scamming them before?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bastards!

      "Not very often due to hearing Trump talking bullshit again"

      Interesting interview with one of Trump's golfing partners.

      Quote:

      “They say that if you cheat at golf, you cheat at business. I’m pretty sure he pays his caddie well, since no matter how far into the woods he hits the ball, it’s in the middle of the fairway when we get there.”

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tagging is used quite a lot here. Partly because the prisons are full, it's a kind of suspended sentence. As mentioned before, it's cheaper too.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sweden used to have system whereby people served minor prison sentences at weekends and in their holidays. This punished them without landing society with a current/future financial liability of their unsupported families.

      1. gnasher729 Silver badge

        "Sweden used to have system whereby people served minor prison sentences at weekends and in their holidays. This punished them without landing society with a current/future financial liability of their unsupported families."

        So what do they do if the offender is unemployed?

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          A similar system is used in many local jail systems in the US (including my hometown). For minor offenses (we're talking maybe a week or two at most), an option is there to serve the time in stages to allow the offender to continue working, especially if a breadwinner. If the offender is unemployed, the option doesn't need to be presented.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      " Partly because the prisons are full, it's a kind of suspended sentence."

      I do wonder if the prisons are full because extended use of ASBOs, conditional discharges, tagging etc. has given them so many don't-get-into-jail-free cards that by the time their offending has reached a count where jail starts to be used they're already recidivists and from then on the jail gate is effectively fitted with a revolving door.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        I do wonder if the prisons are full because...

        None of those reasons; they're full because despite the population increasing, prison capacity has not been increased, mostly because of our government's ideological war on public service spending, which ends up costing more than it saves, both in monetary terms and also in social cost.

        Add to this the increased cost of living for the poorest in society, which leads to people turning to crime to survive, as well as increased homelessness, which leads to an increase in drug and alcohol dependency and the crime that goes with this.

        Oh, and don't forget cuts to policing, so the police no longer have the funds to spend effectively on crime prevention.

        But hey, look over there! It's some posh-sounding sociopath from the 1910s telling us all how all the ills of our society are due to some evil plan from the continent, and in no way the fault of his own party's policies (and his own voting record)...

  13. Tigra 07 Silver badge
    Meh

    What good is a curfew to a phone/computer scammer?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > What good is a curfew to a phone/computer scammer?

      Good point. They should be forced to change to TalkTalk...

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Coffee/keyboard

        "Good point. They should be forced to change to TalkTalk..."

        Sadly I could only upvote that once -->

    2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      "

      What good is a curfew to a phone/computer scammer?

      "

      Nothing as regards to preventing that type of crime. It is however a punishment that for some people is pretty severe. No clubbing or pubbing or hanging out with friends. But for others who usually stay at home, it is no punishment at all. Similar to prison - some people see it as a minor stint of no great concern, while for others it is completely unbearable.

      One thing is that tagging is unlikely to punish the offender's family, while prison is often worse for the inmate's wife & kids than it is for the criminal.

  14. adam payne Silver badge

    "Some of the victims are people who are nervous and lack knowledge that you plainly obtained. They are vulnerable to be scammed like they were by people operating for you. You simply didn’t care what was happening.”

    Scammers count on people having a lack of knowledge so they can make their money.

    Too soft for my liking, strip them of their assets and then throw them in jail for a few years at the very least.

  15. Steve Evans

    Electronic tag and a curfew?

    I don't think forcing an internet fraudster to spend moire time *inside* his house is such a good idea.

    Maybe a reverse one, that forces him to leave the house and stay away from computers would be a better idea!

  16. Lion

    Greed is baked in

    These scumbags are predators. As with all predators they choose victims that are not their equal in strength. In other words, they want to come out of any and all encounters, unscathed and the winner. Scamming fits the profile. Their motivation is greed.

    Fines are not deterrents. They are a mere financial setback. When a court sets the fine at a certain amount (probably representing what was stolen) and that can be negotiated down to a pittance, the criminal sees that as a one time increase to the cost of doing business. Profits are in the millions and most of it is hidden away in shell companies in tax free havens.

    II prefer tagging the grunts.and jail time for the bosses. The tag needs to be worn around the neck, not on the ankle and 5 years jail time for every million stolen. I am not a proponent of hanging, flogging or electric chairs. Prison is hell for bottom feeders..

    I firmly believe that a greedy person is never rehabilitated. Greed is baked in.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Greed is baked in

      Few problems. First, shaming can have the same effect as things like three strikes: drive criminals to desperation and rampage. Second, people savvy enough to shelter money probably also know hoe to play politics. Third, what do we do with the innocent people dependent on them: the wives and children?

  17. Lotaresco Silver badge

    Severity of crime

    Judges seem to regard computer-related crime as something apart from other common crimes. In this case of using deception to access someone's computer in order to defraud them the crime appears, to me at least, to be most similar to "distraction burglary". Where the scammers fool someone into giving them access to their home by posing as police officers or utility workers. The sentencing guidelines for distraction burglary indicate that this should be a Category 1 or 2 offence with a sentence of 6 to 13 years depending on severity. I'd also argue that being in a company and having pre-planned the incident should add "gang membership" and "organised crime" elements to the sentencing decision.

    This makes Vadgama's sentence look like a mild rebuke rather than appropriate to the type of crime and the distress caused.

  18. ecofeco Silver badge

    American justice for sale

    See title. So what else?

    As I tell everyone, you have all the rights you can afford in America. You poor? Sucks to be you.

  19. knarf

    Scammed money goes to....

    The government or the crims at no point no one thought of getting it returned to the people who it was stolen from.

  20. joea

    "Book thrown at them"?

    Yeah, comic book. Hype headlines much?

  21. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Holmes

    The FTC is bound by limits on fines and enforcement

    For the last 35 years or so, Republican and some Democrat congresspersons have refused to increase fines with inflation. The result is that fines that were something of a deterrent 30 years ago are now a slap on the wrist.

    (Sherlock would not approve.)

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The bottom line...

    Digital crimes pays really well and you never have to go to prison for your crimes.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Virtual Machine

    When I'm bored I let these scammers remote access a VM of Windows.

    One time they uploaded a batch script that changed the home screen of the internet browser(s) in the registry as well as creating a Visual Basic script warning of infection.

    I uploaded it to Git Hub here: https://gist.github.com/anonymous/e97cbec040bad06c14c087744d793289

    (The site was taken down that loaded the graphics of infection)

    (I altered the file extension to .txt )

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Virtual Machine

      I'd be careful. There's no telling if the malcontents can detect they're on a VM and then employ a hypervisor (red-pill) attack to escape the VM and attack your actual machine.

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