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Once described as ‘Britain’s greatest online fraudster’, reformed Tony Sales has been hired by West Midlands Police in the UK to help tackle cybercrime.
Mr. Sales, who stole over $43 million over a six-year period, started life as a scammer at the age of 13, going onto make a name for himself as a leading figure in Britain’s largest network of ‘online gangsters’.
Since his days as an underground fraudster, Mr. Sales has completely turned his life around. He now helps some of the biggest names in UK banking, retail and insurance to safeguard themselves against online fraud.
The turnaround came about after he was put in touch with the UK Home Office while serving a 12-month prison sentence back in 2010.
“Only if you see the world through the eyes of a criminal can you anticipate their next move,” the expert recently explained.
“Testing and breaking the security of businesses that think they are bulletproof is very rewarding.“
So respected is Mr. Sales’s knowledge on cybercrime, that David Jamieson, crime commissioner for West Midlands Police, has invited him to give the keynote speech at his annual business summit in Birmingham on January 18th.
Mr. Jamieson added: “Senior officers from West Midlands Police who specialize in cybercrime will outline how the force works with the public and private sector to come up with solutions.”
Previously, in an interview with the BBC, Mr. Sales highlighted the cyber shortcomings of companies, stating that many often dismiss a data breach as an “acceptable loss”.
Some even choose not to act, despite him having identified obvious weaknesses within their security system. However, by and large, his analysis is acted on, especially by larger enterprises that actively seek his know-how.
As he told the broadcaster last year: “I’m given a week to go into a big corporate company … and at the end of the week I go into a board room with a CEO or the head of loss prevention, and we show them what we’ve found throughout our week’s work.
“Normally by the end of the presentation, they’re breathless and with their jaw dropped on the table, saying ‘wow, we never saw that’.”
While it is not unprecedented for law enforcement to work with reformed con artists – perhaps most famously in the case of Frank Abagnale – nobody should even consider this as a career path, explains Stephen Cobb, a senior security researcher at ESET.
“Breaking the law is not a smart way to pursue a career in security,” he says. “iI’s a very long shot with a lot of downsides, including prison time.”
According to Mr. Cobb, who grew up in the area of England now known as the West Midlands, the decision by Mr. Jamieson to utilize Mr. Sales may well serve to improve police response to cybercrime, and, further, every felon who serves their time deserves a second chance.
“What is unfortunate is if young people see this as condoning criminal behavior,” the information security expert continued. “They don’t realize that the road back from crime to a job as a trusted security professional is either impossible or at best long and painful.”
Author Karl Thomas, ESET