| 7.3°C Belfast

The Northern Ireland man who hacked into Indian call centre to obtain CCTV footage of scammers targeting him

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph under a pseudonym, Jim Browning tells Ivan Little how, sick of being bombarded by cold calls from fraudsters, he decided to turn the tables on the criminal gangs

Close

Jim Browning (not his real name) hacked into a call centre based in Delhi and captured images of the fraudsters at work

Jim Browning (not his real name) hacked into a call centre based in Delhi and captured images of the fraudsters at work

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jim Browning (not his real name) hacked into a call centre based in Delhi and captured images of the fraudsters at work

Jim Browning (not his real name) hacked into a call centre based in Delhi and captured images of the fraudsters at work

Getty Images/iStockphoto

The fraudsters at work

The fraudsters at work

The fraudsters at work

The fraudsters at work

Jim Browning (not his real name) hacked into a call centre based in Delhi and captured images of the fraudsters at work

The Northern Irishman who has been seen by millions of TV and YouTube viewers turning the tables on fraudsters at scam call centres in India has revealed that his only motivation is to protect vulnerable people who in the past have been driven to suicide by the callous conmen.

"I want to expose the scams so that people can see how they work and they can then guard against them," says scam-buster Jim Browning - that's not his real name - who is appalled that the fraudsters are fleecing millions from susceptible people right across the world, with their prime target market in the UK where it's estimated there are 21 million calls every month. That's one every eight seconds.

Jim was featured recently on the BBC's Panorama programme which showed his ingeniously-obtained footage of gangsters tricking people into thinking that their computers were infected with pornography before charging them small fortunes to 'repair' them.

Jim, who has his own YouTube channel devoted to highlighting the scams, has received scores of letters and emails from people who've told him how they've fallen foul of the fraudsters.

"Some victims have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds and there's very little gets done about it," says Jim. "I don't like people scamming others and thinking that they are completely immune.

"After the Panorama programme the police in India made arrests but I have my doubts about whether or not they would have happened if it hadn't been for the documentary."

Jim, who hates the 'vigilante' and 'hacker' labels that some sections of the media have used to describe him, isn't comfortable talking about himself.

He says that he lives 'somewhere' in the UK but it's not Belfast and that his scam-baiting is a hobby that runs parallel to his 9 to 5 job, which he again prefers to keep secret, though he does concede that he has a background in IT.

Given the nature of the multi-million pound scamming industry and its criminal connections who would dearly love to silence him, it's no surprise that family man Jim goes to great lengths to shield his identity to keep himself safe.

Jim says he decided to strike back at the scammers after he, like virtually every other computer user in the UK, was receiving a barrage of cold calls, particularly from India.

"One day I resolved to find out more about the people who were ringing me," he explains. "With phone calls alone it's difficult to get any more information because it's so easy to 'spoof' numbers. But if you know what you are doing with computers and can protect yourself you can establish the source."

Jim set up his home computer to allow the scammers access to it and it was configured in such a way that let him trace the connection back to the conmen's PCs so that he could see what the fraudsters were up to and who they were.

"I went to the internet service providers and asked them to take action against people whom I'd identified as using their service to scam people. But nothing ever happened.

Jim, who started posting videos of the scams online, says it's all too easy for the tricksters to catch people off their guard.

Some victims have even taken their own lives after realising that they have been scammed

One favourite ploy is for the gangs to place a fake pop-up message on victims' computers to warn them they have been infected by pornographic software.

They're then told to ring Microsoft for crucial technical support unaware that all they have to do to get rid of the message is to switch off their computers.

But if they do ring the number provided they'll be connected on the other end of the line to smooth-talking fraudsters who have nothing to do with Microsoft but who are ready to rip off the victims.

Jim says: "They run a very set script on the phone and if you allow them access to your computer they will go through something that sounds very convincing. They will persuade people to part with money and many of the victims won't even know they've been conned.

"They think they've paid someone to help them fix a problem by providing them with extra security that they are supposed to need.

"There are other more blatant scams when money is simply stolen from people's bank accounts."

Last year a fake HMRC call centre was exposed in India where conmen were targeting 10,000 Britons a day and threatening them with prison unless they paid false tax bills - to the scammers of course.

Close

The fraudsters at work

The fraudsters at work

The fraudsters at work

It's been suggested that some of Jim's own tactics are illegal but he insists he never employs any of his technological know-how on anyone but the scammers.

Last year Jim was able to break into the computers of one Indian scam centre's CCTV in Delhi and by taking control of the cameras he could see the rows and rows of fraudsters who were calling him and other more unsuspecting victims.

And it was that shocking footage which appeared on the Panorama documentary.

One gang leader, Amit Chauhan, was filmed laughing as he told his staff: "We don't give a **** about the customers."

Other call centre staff were seen smirking as one victim cried and told him he feared the expensive 'repairs' would give him a heart attack.

At one point during the documentary Jim asked a trickster who was claiming to be ringing from San Jose in America to authenticate his call by giving him the name of a restaurant in the city. And the man who was in India could be seen frantically googling for an answer.

"That was a one-off," says Jim. "All I did was to use their own connection to see what they were doing. They were viewing their own CCTV footage on their computers and I could see it as well."

Jim, who also obtained recordings of a staggering 70,000 phone calls from the Delhi centre, says that he receives regular emails from people who thank him for his warnings but he finds it distressing to hear from duped victims of the scammers who are looking for his help in retrieving their money.

"But I am helpless," he says. "If the scammers don't access my computer I am no better than anyone else. However some of the stories that I hear from victims are very sad.

"I receive regular messages from grandchildren telling me how their grandparents have been left unable to keep their own homes because they've been conned. Some victims have even taken their own lives after realising that they have been scammed."

Jim says the fraud gangs tend to target older people and they're not averse to exploiting dementia sufferers.

"The cold calls to more elderly folk tend to come during UK daytime," he adds. "That's when the scammers know they are more likely to be at home."

But where do the criminals receive their information?

Jim says: "It's very difficult to track down the sources. There are plenty of legitimate call centres in India run by big businesses all around the world.

Close

The fraudsters at work

The fraudsters at work

The fraudsters at work

"I guess there may be some unscrupulous people working in them who might take the data and sell it.

"But equally some of the calls that you and I receive are random ones made by people who simply go through the phone book and ring the numbers listed there.

"That information is then passed on. I have used fake names when I have answered my phone and that false identity will be echoed back to me weeks and months later by some other scammer."

It's self-evident that Jim would love nothing more with his scam-baiting 'crusade' than to do himself out of a 'job' but he knows only too well that the scammers will always find people whose weak spots they can abuse.

"I'm not naive enough to think that I am having a huge impact on the problem which won't go away overnight," says Jim. "There are literally hundreds of scam call centres operating at the moment. But if my videos make someone think twice that would be great. And I will keep chipping away and maybe someday the calls will reduce."

Jim says the police in India need to do a lot more to tackle the scammers. He adds: "At the moment the media interest has meant that they have been pro-active in recent weeks but that could all change before very long.

"I think that the police must show that they want to halt the scammers. There's nothing to stop them doing exactly what I do. They could have more of a concerted effort. All they have to do is browse the internet to find some of these pop-ups from the fraudsters.

"There's also a very good site called www.scammer.info which has a lot of the phone numbers that the gangs use and the police could ring them.

"I don't know why they aren't more willing to crack down on the scams. Maybe they have more high profile crimes to deal with or maybe it has something to do with the fact that people in India aren't affected as much as victims overseas.

"If they even wanted to come to me to inquire how I do what I do I would happily sit down with them and tell them. It's really not that difficult but I don't think the will is there."

The scam call centre in Delhi that featured in Jim's footage was raided after the Panorama programme and Amit Chauhan and an accountant, Sumit Kumar, were arrested.

Jim reckons that the operators of some of the scam call centres are making upwards of $3m a year, but paying their staff a fraction of that.

He says that people here have a number of options open to them to deal with the scammers though he adds that the UK Telephone Preference Service, which is designed to stop unwanted calls, doesn't stop fraudsters ringing from India.

He recommends that people who don't recognise telephone numbers coming up on their phones shouldn't answer them or hang up immediately if they do take the call and find out that it's from someone they're not expecting to be in touch.

Jim says, however, the advice from within the scam-baiting community is the exact opposite.

"If you know what you're doing and you have the time to keep these people occupied it's a good idea to answer the call and keep them talking as long as possible because when they're not scamming you they're scamming someone else like your grandparents.

"You can wind them up for hours that way."

Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.

Already have an account?

Belfast Telegraph