Sunday, December 4, 2016

Oddments - crime news from the UK

As well as the major stories in the news this week, there have been quite a few smaller items from the UK that caught my eye, for different reasons.


Cyber blackmail is on the increase. According to the police, webcam blackmail cases have doubled in the last year, going from fewer than 400 to over 850. The NCA (National Crime Agency) admit, however, that many of the victims don’t report the crime, so actual numbers are likely to be far greater.

Contrary to what you might expect, the majority of victims are males between 21 and 30, who are befriended by fake identities on social media and persuaded to perform sexual acts in front of their webcams.

The blackmailer will then usually demand money or they will post the videos online, or share with the victim’s friends, workmates, and family, in a moved dubbed ‘sextortion’. It’s believed that online blackmail of this type has led to several suicides.

If you’re targeted, the NCA advises not paying anything or communicating with the criminals, but to take notes and screenshots of all messages, temporarily suspend your social media accounts so the evidence is preserved, and report the incident both to the police and to the social media site where the contact was made.

Gone in Six Seconds

I don’t know what kind of courses they offer at Newcastle University, but experts there announced this week that it’s possible to guess all the details necessary to crack your credit card security in under six seconds, using a laptop and an internet connection.

They’ve developed a technique called Distributed Guessing Attack, which feeds the card number simultaneously into hundreds of websites and guesses the remaining details until it strikes lucky by a process of elimination – something which usually takes around six seconds. The researchers found that some credit card companies did not have systems in place to detect multiple high-speed attempts.

Each website allows often up to 20 attempts at inputting the required data, and by using up these guesses on each site, the DGA software is able to very quickly piece together the required information. Added to that is the fact that different sites often ask for different info, so the cyber thief can piece it all together even faster.

There is some speculation that an attack of this type was used to hack the details of 9000 Tesco Bank customers in early November.

Going, Going … Almost Gone

It was reported this week that a retired businessman, Minh To, found to his surprise that his half-million-pound house was up for auction on the property sales website, RightMove. If the man’s daughter, an estate agent, hadn’t called him only a few days before the sale to ask where he was moving, he might never have discovered the scheme.

Greater Manchester Police traced four men who had raided Mr To’s postbox for utility bills and used them to forge his signature and transfer the deeds of the house into their ownership. This was possible because Mr To had paid off his mortgage, otherwise the agreement of the bank involved would have been required.

New Money

Back in September, a new polymer £5 note was launched in the UK, with Sir Winston Churchill on the reverse. The new note was designed to be more robust than the previous paper versions, but it hit the news this week when a vegetarian café in Cambridge refused to accept the new note as it contains animal products.

An online petition has already been launched in response to an outcry by vegans, vegetarians and some faith groups, when it became known that the new fiver contains tallow, a form of rendered fat from either cows or sheep.

The Australian inventor of the process commented that the fuss was “absolutely stupid” although the Bank of England claims it’s looking for a solution. Singer Morrissey, meanwhile, has suggested that people donate their own bodies after death to be used in the production process …

Not All Bad News

In keeping with the ‘leave ‘em laughing’ tradition of British news reports, my final piece is about Craig Vaughan, a farmer in Teesside, whose Cocker spaniel, Dora, was stolen along with her five puppies, while Mr Vaughan was busy milking his cows.

Mr Vaughan appealed for help on social media tracing the dogs, and the news was shared up and down the country. His hope was that it would be publicised enough to make it almost impossible to sell the pups.

And on Wednesday, he announced that a third party had intervened and managed to get the dogs back on his behalf.

“Someone has done me a massive favour and he wouldn’t take any money from me for them,” Mr Vaughan is quoted as saying. “I cannot believe I have got them back. It just goes to show you cannot beat the Great British public.”

I wonder if police are looking for Cruella Deville?

This week's Word of the Week is stibogram, meaning a record of footsteps, as opposed to ichnogram, meaning a forensic record of footprints.


  1. Absolutely fascinating, Zoe. Here are my thank you notes!

  2. Thanks, Annamaria. And loved the link! No disrespect to Glenn Close in the live action version, but the original Disney cartoon character was SO much scarier. Or maybe that was just down to the age at which I first encountered her ...

  3. I am going to add the loss of Harris the border terrier on Ben Nevis last week, in dying light at minus 3. One hour after his owner last saw him, he was picked up by another climber. He dialled the number on his collar ( in England) and the owner's mum directed the finder to the hotel the owners were staying in. What did the finder do? Sent Harris home in a taxi, anonymously.

  4. I was going to make a smart-ass remark about a whole lot of feet writing (gram) all over the place, and then made up the word 'pedogram' to include in the smart-ass remark, then thought I'd better do a search on it, and found out it was (of course) a real word: A record made by the pedograph. Which started to freak me out, thinking maybe that was a written record by pedophiles, but no (whew!), it's an imprint on paper of the foot. Which, of course, begs the question: why do child-predators have a foot fetish?

    I'm think I'm going to give up and go back to bed...

    But then, of course, I had to check where the root of pedo comes from, and found these fascinating 'facts':

    1) Primarily, "relating to children", from the Greek word pais (παῖς), meaning "child", which derived from the Proto-Indo European base word *peu-, meaning "small," "young" or "few". It is spelled "pedo-" in USA spelling and "paedo-" in British spelling.

    2) "Relating to foot", in words (e.g. pedometer) derived from Latin pes (pedis) from Proto-Indo European word *ped-, meaning "foot."

    3) "Relating to soil", from the Greek word for soil pedon (πέδον).

    4) "Relating to flatulence", from Latin pēdō (infinitive pēdere) [Latin: to fart], the root word for flatulation in several Indo-European languages.

    This brings a whole new aroma to all of those 'pedo-' words.

    1. To make your self-analysis research into "foot," truly enlightening, Evka, might I suggest you add to it one on "mouth." :)

    2. Wisdom from Jeff's lips to my ... er... um... never mind.