Rav Wilding and YouTube sensation Jim Browning, along with a team of ethical hackers, are hunting down cyber criminals in this new 15×45 series for BBC One Daytime and BBC iPlayer. This daring programme will see the BBC’s team working with ethical hackers to intercept cyber-criminals in the act, helping to prevent vulnerable people falling victim.

Using the same remote-access technology that criminals use to scam their victims, the team will hack the hackers and monitor their operation. In a race against the criminals, they’ll identify and contact victims in the middle of real-time scams to try to stop the crime before it happens.

Rav will be based at the Scam Interceptors HQ and, with the help of ethical hacker Jim Browning, Rav’s team will be monitoring industrial-scale scammers in real-time from across the globe. 

The programme will also explore the biggest anti-social issues that have risen in the pandemic and the ‘local heroes’ who are tackling these problems head on, such as bike theft, fly-tipping and ‘romance’ scams.

Scam Interceptors was commissioned for BBC One by Carla-Maria Lawson, Head of BBC Daytime and Early Peak. Rachel Platt is the Commissioning Editor for BBC Daytime and Early-Peak. The series was produced by Rowland Stone (Executive Producer) and Sherry Knight (Series Producer) for BBC Studios Documentary Unit Popular Factual.

Q&A with Rav Wilding

What makes Scam Interceptors different from any other crime fighting show?

Scam interceptors is like nothing else on TV before, this is ground-breaking content. We show the viewers directly what the scammers see and do, which will enable anyone watching to keep both themselves and each other safer from future fraud attempts. During filming we literally intercepted and prevented high value scam attempts on scores of victims saving thousands of pounds. The education this series gives will potentially save millions more.

What was it like exposing cyber-crime and making a real difference to victims? 

Each person that is scammed has a heart-breaking story. It’s often vulnerable people that fall foul of the scammers and who in many cases lose their life savings in a single phone call, or those who are just easily confused by the scammers’ well-rehearsed “script”.

The number of victims we know about is likely to be a drop in the ocean as these crimes are so under reported. To be able to expose the scammers and massively disrupt their organised criminal organisation was satisfying as we knew that as long as we were intervening, they were not ripping off potential victims.

What is an ethical hacker?

An ethical hacker is a cyber expert who is able to use their skills to expose serious criminality. On Scam Interceptors, I worked closely with our ethical hacker Jim Browning, who was able to infiltrate the scammers computers to enable me and my team to literally see what the scammers could see. This meant whenever we were able to get details from them of a potential victim they were targeting at the time – if and when I was confident it was a criminal act taking place –  I could give the green light to swoop in, contact the victim and intercept. 

What other types of scams does the programme expose which have arisen in the pandemic?

The pandemic has sadly led to a large increase in numerous crimes. On Scam Interceptors we met lots of people who are so sick of criminals getting away with it so have taken it upon themselves to stop them. This included two people who hide out in bushes overnight to try and photograph fly tippers in the act before passing the info on to the local councils. Another person was so sick of bikes being stolen, he works to try and get them reunited with their owners by tricking the thieves – with great success.

We also met a female domestic violence victim who now runs her own private investigation service and deals with numerous cases of romance fraud. It certainly feels that, thanks to people like that, the net is closing in on the criminals. 

Top tips from Rav – How to prevent a hack

  1. Be wary of unsolicited emails and text messages claiming to be from legitimate companies, asking for you to click a link and then provide personal details. This is a very popular route for scammers and often the start of elaborate fraud attempts. STOP if you get one like this and check to see if it’s genuine. Asking a family member or friend is incredibly useful too.
  2. Check an email sender’s address at the top of the screen by hovering your cursor over it. This is often a quick way to see if it is or isn’t the genuine company they are claiming to be  a quick search on the internet will show you the company’s genuine address and this will differ from what a scammer may send you.
  3. Read the message carefully. If it’s genuine it will address you personally by name. If it says dear “user” “sir/madam” etc it’s almost certainly not real and may be a scam. Poor spelling and grammar is also another giveaway that it’s likely a fake email or text. If in doubt, do your own research to find the name of the company they claim to be from and contact them. DON’T use contact details on any text or emails they send you out of the blue.
  4. Don’t be fooled into paying a small amount of money via an unsolicited email or text message for apparent reasons such as a missed delivery. This is a common tactic used by scammers, who then retain all your banking and personal information for this payment to attempt more high value fraud attempts on you in the weeks to come via cold calling.
  5. Be VERY wary of cold callers claiming to be from big companies such as internet providers or your satellite TV company. These often stem from you previously unwittingly passing them your personal details via web links on fraudulent texts or emails you may have received. They may say you are due a refund or you need to cancel a pricey subscription you didn’t know you had. This is a scam tactic widely used. If in any doubt simply say “I am aware of numerous scams like this. I will be reporting you, don’t contact me again”. Scammers work in call centres and will mark calls individually if it’s worth calling back at a later date. Letting them know you are on to them will mean they are more likely to not try you again…

Q&A with Jim Browning

How did you start getting involved with fighting cyber-crime? 

It’s a pretty simple one. Like most people, I receive lots and lots of phone calls almost every day and I recognise most of them as being scams. The callers typically introduce themselves as my bank, internet service provider or large well known companies. When I hear these calls, I used to ask myself why isn’t someone doing something about these calls? With my computer and network knowledge, I thought, well, if other people can’t or won’t do something about them, perhaps I can make an impact. I initially just recorded the calls, but pretty soon after this, I began to notice that a lot of the calls had a weak point; they nearly always wanted access to my computer. With my technical background, I knew that if I let them onto my computer safely I could use their connection against them: I could monitor not only what they were doing, but use their connection in reverse and gain access to the scammers’ computers. From there, I could see and hear them scam other people. I could also find out who they were and where they were. So I’ve been documenting my fight against these scammers on YouTube ever since.

Have you ever been hacked/scammed yourself? What was this experience like?

Usually I know what I’m doing and I’ve never been hacked as such. I did have an experience where someone attempted to take over my channel and although this failed, they did manage to do some damage. They actually convinced me to press a few buttons and this deleted it. It took around a week or so before technicians could fix that particular mess. But it did remind me that anyone can be scammed… the circumstances just need to be right. At least on that occasion I didn’t lose money, but I see and hear people being scammed on an almost daily basis. I can only imagine just how devastating that can be.

Who do you think scammers mainly target?

They most certainly attempt to target older people. Their success rate with that demographic is always higher than with younger people. The reasons are manyfold, but since a lot of the scams require computer access, the less computer literate people are more likely to get scammed. I’ve seen scammers filter their call data for age groups 60+, so I know they prefer older victims. That age group are more likely to have savings too; they are commissioned on a percentage basis, so you can see why they prefer older people to pick up the phone.

What was it like filming on Scam Interceptors and working with Rav?

Rav is extremely professional and I’m very glad that I’ve had the opportunity to show how the scams work. I strongly believe that the message about these scams doesn’t really have an impact unless you see it and hear it at first hand. The ‘Scam Interceptors’ work perfectly illustrates the kind of manipulation that happens and gives people an opportunity to understand how the scams work. I think when you can recognise a scam, even if the wording changes a bit, you’re far less likely to fall for the scam. If you’re familiar with what happens on a scam phone call, you’re more likely to recognise it, if you happen to come across a scammer. So I’m very happy that Rav and the team have had a chance to show the scams in action.