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It was an email offering a discount on an electric toothbrush that began the sequence of events that ruined Anna’s life.

Within minutes of entering her card details, she got a call from her bank telling her fraudulent transactions were being made. The next day Robert Clayton from Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority called to say they were pursuing the criminals responsible but that her savings were at risk.

There was no toothbrush, though. No fraud department, no Robert Clayton. They were all part of a scam to gradually siphon off Anna’s life savings, and within a few weeks the plot had succeeded, to the tune of about 200,000 pounds ($270,000).

“I am still in shock, the guilt and shame are impossible to convey,” said the 78-year-old widow from central England, who did not want her full name to be used in this story.

She is one of thousands of people who have seen savings swept away this year by an unprecedented wave of online bank fraud hitting Britain, where you’re more likely to be a victim of online fraud than any other crime.

The country is the global epicentre for such attacks, according to five of the biggest British banks and more than a dozen security experts who said scammers were buying up batches of consumers’ personal details on the dark net to target the record numbers shopping and banking online since the pandemic.

The country’s super-fast payments infrastructure, relatively light policing of fraud-related crime, plus its use of the world’s most widely used language English, also made it an ideal global test bed for scams, the banks and specialists added.

A British record of 754 million pounds ($1 billion)was stolen in the first six months of this year, up 30 per cent from the same period in 2020, according to data from banking industry body UK Finance, and up more than 60 per cent from 2017, when it began compiling the figures.

That represents a per capita fraud rate roughly triple that seen in the United States in 2020, according to a Reuters calculation from UK Finance and the latest available Federal Trade Commission data.

“The most sophisticated fraud tends to start in the UK, and then move two years later to the US and then around the world,” said Ayelet Biger-Levin, vice president of product strategy at US-based cybersecurity firm BioCatch, which provides anti-fraud technology to banks.

“In the last 12 months we have seen more fraud attacks than we had seen in any other year in history. Data breaches have also accelerated, so there’s a lot more personal information out there that criminals can take advantage of.”

‘MONEY WOULD HAVE SUPPORTED US’

Unlike simple email-based scams of the past purporting to be from princes or oil barons seeking your help to shift their millions, the modern bank scam can be sophisticated, multi-phased and extremely convincing.

“We’ve seen some cases where the fraudster has been talking to somebody for three or four years as someone else before they actually scam them out of a large amount of money,” said Brian Dilley, group director for economic crime prevention at Britain’s biggest bank Lloyds.

Deena Karia, another scam victim, told Reuters how she lost 10,000 pounds in early February after buying a seemingly safe bond purportedly issued by Credit Suisse and apparently listed on price-comparison site MoneySuperMarket.

After filling out a form on the website and receiving a call from a staff member there, she called them back on the number listed on the website to check the phone number was legitimate, made further checks about the bond and went on to invest.

Karia, from outer London, still does not know exactly how her money was stolen, but believes the scammers may have created a fake website mimicking MoneySuperMarket.

The genuine MoneySuperMarket warned on Feb. 15 of crooks faking its website and impersonating its staff. A spokesperson for the company said it is working to take down such fake websites and phone numbers, working with the FCA to highlight cloned websites and reporting issues to the police.

“I lost my Dad not long ago, I’m caring for my mother and that money would have supported us for years,” Karia said.

Barclays, her bank, has refunded only half the money, saying she could have done more to protect herself.

“We have every sympathy with Miss Karia who was the victim of an investment scam and as the case is currently being investigated by the Financial Ombudsman Service, we await the conclusion of their review,” Barclays said.

FAST PAYMENTS, FAST FRAUD?

The government’s National Economic Crime Centre (NECC) agrees with the banking sector’s assessment that fraud represents a threat to British security.

“It is growing from an already enormous scale,” said Chris Reed, fraud threat lead at NECC, which he said was meeting at least every month with bank bosses, technology executives and telecoms companies to assess and respond to threats.

Britain’s Faster Payments’ network, which allows transfers between bank accounts to settle instantly rather than in hours or days as in the United States and other developed banking markets, means criminals can rapidly spirit away funds.

“The faster payment system has facilitated faster fraud,” said Richard Emery, a fraud expert who is advising Anna and 63 other scam victims whose average loss is 102,000 pounds.

Pay.UK, which runs the network, said the system supported the British economy, consumers and businesses. It added that criminals were getting better at exploiting digitisation and that it was working with the industry and regulator to fight fraud.

While security experts and senior bankers said many fraud attacks could be traced overseas – including from India and West Africa – Britain is also increasingly exporting attacks.

Crimes such as authorised push payments (APP) – where people are tricked into authorising a payment by a criminal posing as their bank or other trusted company – are proliferating globally after having started off as a largely UK phenomenon.

The country ranks second in the world behind the United States as a source of automated bot attacks, the fastest-growing type of fraud attack in the world, according to data from LexisNexis Risk Solutions, a financial crime analysis firm.

Bot attacks see criminals use a high volume of stolen identity credentials to overrun a website, allowing them to set up new accounts or access existing ones.

“It’s popular to say the fraud threat is imported into the UK, and I don’t think that bears analysis,” said NECC’s Reed. “There is a significant UK nexus to a lot of fraud, our operational experience is showing that.”

HSBC: UK IS HOTBED OF FRAUD

Britain’s banks – which often pick up the compensation bill when people are scammed – are trying to respond.

HSBC, which has operations in the Americas and Asia, has hired more than 300 staff in a year to support its anti-fraud operations in its home market and increased annual spending by 40 per cent to deal with an “exponential” number of customers affected, the bank told Reuters.

“The UK is the hotbed of activity for fraudsters. Currently the UK accounts for about 80 per cent of our global personal fraud losses,” it said.

Lloyds said it had invested 100 million pounds in its defences over the past two years, while rival NatWest has 10 per cent of its workforce – amounting to 6,000 people – dedicated to combating financial crime. TSB has hired 100 extra staff to support fraud victims in the last year.

But lenders are also pressing the government to make social media platforms, where they say some attacks originate, share the burden. British lawmakers told bosses at Facebook, Google, Amazon and eBay last month that they needed to do more combat fraud.

The NECC’s Reed said another problem was that just 1 per cent of policing resources were dedicated to fighting fraud, despite it making up over a third of all crime in England and Wales.

“I won’t hide away from the fact that resourcing of the response is completely out of step with the scale and seriousness of the threat. We’ve got a mountain to climb.”

This means that criminals are emboldened to target people like Anna, who has little hope of recovering her savings.

The fraudsters had told her to shift her “at risk” cash to an account on a cryptocurrency platform that they emptied – while isolating her from family by stressing secrecy and coaching her on how to respond to sceptical bank officials.

“They knew the name of my financial adviser, they were utterly convincing as FCA staff,” she said. “And they told me I could not tell anyone about the investigation as it would damage their efforts to catch the crooks.”

REUTERS
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Medical specialists transport a patient outside a hospital for people infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia

Russia reported a record 1,002 deaths from coronavirus on Saturday, the first time the daily number has passed the 1,000-mark since the start of the pandemic.

New COVID-19 cases, confirmed in the past 24 hours, were at 33,208, setting a record for the fifth consecutive day, the Russian coronavirus task force said.

Russian authorities blame a slow vaccination campaign for the sharp rise of infections and deaths, which forced the health ministry this week to ask retired vaccinated medics to return to hospitals.

Russia estimates that 45% of its population may have an immunity to the novel coronavirus after receiving a vaccine or recovering from the illness, data published by the coronavirus task force on Saturday showed. In Moscow the figure is 61% and is at 64% in the region surrounding the capital.

Russia was quick to develop and launch its Sputnik V vaccine when the coronavirus pandemic struck last year, but take-up has been slow, with many Russians citing distrust of the authorities and fear of new medical products.

Only around 48 million out of 144 million Russians are fully vaccinated, according to the latest data from the coronavirus task force, with 51 million having received one shot.

The latest coronavirus deaths brought the total official national death toll to 222,315, with a total 7,958,384 cases.

The Rosstat statistic service, which keeps a separate count of coronavirus deaths, said this month that around 418,000 deaths were recorded between April 2020 and August 2021.

The excess mortality in Russia, which some epidemiologists say is the best way to measure the impact of a pandemic, reached 575,000 extra deaths in the same period in comparison with the average mortality rate in 2015-2019.

REUTERS
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Flames from a gas burner are reflected on a cooker in a private home

Russian gas consumption is running at a record high but Moscow is still ready to increase supplies to Europe should it receive such requests, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said on Saturday.

European spot gas prices have surged by 800% this year as demand has recovered after the coronavirus pandemic. Prices eased earlier this month after Russia, Europe’s key gas supplier, said it could deliver more, but these supplies have yet to materialise.

“I want to underline that we in Russia have record high gas consumption figures this year, which is also due to active economic recovery,” Novak said in an interview with the Rossiya 1 TV channel broadcast, according to Russian news agencies.

Russia, whose gas production and exports to EU are already near record highs, has said it needs to finish filling its own gas storage reserves before it increases supplies to Europe’s spot market. It plans to complete this by end-October.

Novak did not say how large Russia’s gas reserves were but estimated that European underground facilities were short of around 25 billion cubic metres of gas.

He insisted high domestic demand would not stop Russia offering more supplies to Europe if it received such requests.
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The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is completed and ready to pump Russian gas to Europe, but nothing is flowing yet because it is still awaiting clearance from Germany’s energy regulator.

Europe’s most controversial energy project, which is led by Russian gas giant Gazprom (GAZP.MM), has faced resistance from the United States and Ukraine among others.

A move by the German regulator last week to ask the pipeline operator, Swiss-based Nord Stream 2 AG, for assurances it will not break competition rules suggests it could take several more months before the 1,200 km pipeline gets the green light.

WHAT’S THE HOLD-UP?

Germany’s Federal Network Agency – which regulates the country’s electricity, gas, telecommunications, post and railway sectors – has until early January to come up with a recommendation on whether or not it will certify the pipeline that runs from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

While technical requirements have been met, the key sticking point is whether Gazprom will comply with European unbundling rules that require pipeline owners to be different from suppliers of gas flowing in them to ensure fair competition.

The Nord Stream 2 operator claims the rules are aimed at torpedoing the pipeline and last week scored a partial victory when an advisor to the European Union’s top court recommended that Gazprom could challenge the EU rules.

The project’s identically-sized sister pipeline, Nord Stream 1, has been exempt from unbundling rules since opening in 2011 because it was treated as an interconnector rather than as direct supplier.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE RECOMMENDATION?

Once a three-member independent ruling committee at the network agency has made its recommendation it goes to the European Commission, which has another two months to respond.

If both bodies are in agreement that the pipeline fulfils all regulatory requirements then certification can be issued relatively quickly, but if they aren’t the process could be further delayed.

Certification can be only given if both have worked out any differences that may arise, which means that it could take until spring 2022 before the pipeline gets certified and can officially start operation.

CAN THE AGENCY REALLY BLOCK THE PIPELINE?

Effectively, no. Even though certification is a requirement the network agency is quite limited in how it can prevent Gazprom from simply starting to pump gas right away.

Its toughest tool is a one-time 1 million euro ($1.2 million) fine on the operator if it starts operation without certification.

As a regulator it can also launch an investigation but any legal process is expected to be lengthy and will not result in a short-term prevention of gas flows.

Gazprom, meanwhile, said in August it expects Nord Stream 2 to deliver 5.6 billion cubic metres bcm, about a tenth of the pipeline’s annual capacity, already in 2021 if supplies start in October.

WHAT’S GOING ON BEHIND THE SCENES?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in recent months, has made it clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin that playing by the rules was vital in ensuring ongoing political support for the pipeline, two government sources familiar with the matter have said.

Merkel openly said that the political basis for operating Nord Stream 2 was Russia’s commitment to continue to use Ukraine as a gas transit route in the future as well.

“Putin is smart enough to know that the sentiment among German politicians regarding the project will become rather problematic, so he should not provide any reason to endanger operations,” one of the sources said.

IS THE NETWORK AGENCY POLITICALLY INDEPENDENT?

No. For its own recommendation the agency needs a binding assessment on supply security by Germany’s Economy and Energy Ministry, of which it is a part.

“Certification can only be granted if the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy determines that granting certification will not jeopardize the security of gas supply of the Federal Republic of Germany and the European Union,” a spokesperson for the agency said.

The Economy Ministry has said it is currently working on this assessment, but has not given a timeline for when it will be completed. Should it determine that operating Nord Stream 2 will put gas supply at risk the agency cannot certify it.

WILL GERMANY’S ELECTION HAVE AN IMPACT?

Until a new government is in place, Germany’s Economy Ministry is led by Peter Altmaier, a member of Merkel’s conservative party, which has backed the pipeline.

Under Merkel, who is still running the country until a new coalition is formed, Germany recently struck a deal with Washington to allow the controversial pipeline to go ahead.

As a result, the threshold for the next government reversing the deal is very high, even in the likely event that the Greens – which have fiercely opposed the project – become part of the next ruling coalition, two people familiar with the matter said.

In addition, Olaf Scholz, who led the Social Democrats to victory in last month’s election and stands a good chance to succeed Merkel as chancellor, has been in favour of the pipeline.

REUTERS
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Qu Dongyu

The pandemic has made the world more vulnerable to food insecurity, this is the message left by the director-general of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation FAO.

Qu Dongyu added that the effects of the pandemic had pushed the aim of ending world hunger by 2030 further down the road.

"You name it, Yemen, Afghanistan now, Syria, Sudan, and some part of conflict areas in the Sahara and the eastern Horn of Africa and Haiti, of course. So, due to the natural disaster, you name it, earthquake or climate crisis and also man-made conflict and others it is simply because they have no capacity to produce enough food", said the UN food and agriculture chief.

The latest report singles out Yemen, Afghanistan and Haiti amongst the worst hit places.

The UN's official added that according to the latest report over 800 million are suffering from hunger and food insecurity.

".... there was 1 out of 9 on this planet who was suffering of malnutrition or food insecurity. But due to the pandemic it is getting a little bit worse, exacerbated by the pandemic. But the newest report by FAO together with other colleagues, partners, show now that last year we had 811 million population suffering from hunger and food insecurity", said Qu Dongyu.

On October 16th the United Nations marks World Food Day.

The organisers are calling for the reform of agri-food systems around the world in order to feed everyone.

According to the United Nations for three billion people, almost half the global population, a healthy diet is beyond their financial reach.
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World Health Organization leaders at a press briefing on COVID-19, held on March 6 at WHO headquarters in Geneva

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday launched an expert group that will examine the origins of new pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The proposed members of the WHO Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) were selected for their expertise in areas such as epidemiology, animal health, clinical medicine, virology and genomics.

WHO chief, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, announced this during his regular briefing from Geneva, Switzerland.

“SAGO will advise WHO on the development of a global framework to define and guide studies into the origins of emerging and re-emerging pathogens with epidemic and pandemic potential, including SARS-CoV-2.

“The emergence of new viruses with the potential to spark epidemics and pandemics is a fact of nature, and while SARS-CoV-2 is the latest such virus, it will not be the last,” he said.

The 26 scientists come from several countries, and were selected from over 700 applications following a global call.

A two-week public consultation period will take place for WHO to receive feedback on the proposed SAGO members.

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Technical Lead on COVID-19, said the world must be better prepared for any future “Disease X”.

Responding to a journalist’s question, she anticipated that SAGO will recommend further studies in China, and potentially elsewhere, to understand the origins of the new coronavirus.

While SAGO will advise WHO, any future missions will be organised by the UN agency and the country in question.

“I want to make it very clear that the SAGO is not the next mission team. There’s been some misrepresentation about that going forward,” she said. 
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A pile of containers at the Los Angeles and Long Beach Ports in Long Beach, An estimated 500,000 containers are reportedly still sitting on docked container ships and waiting to be dealt withEPA-EFE/ETIENNE LAURENT

As the coronavirus crisis is wearing off in many parts of the world, supply chain troubles are increasing once more for many companies, mainly concerning the U.S. and the Eurozone. 

Components of the International Monetary Fund’s purchasing managers’ index show how supply chain disruptions have developed during the pandemic, spiking in early 2020 and picking back up over the course of 2021 as the new normal causes all types of goods to become more sought amid a more permanent reopening. The supply chains in China and emerging markets, on the other hand, are less affected.

Still reeling from lockdowns and restrictions as well as the loss of manpower due to illness or travel restrictions, many suppliers had to restrict their production and were no longer able to meet their delivery obligations in full. And as even a single missing supply part can quickly affect production processes in a massive way, the complex structure of global supply chains can quickly fold.

According to the IMF, supply chain disruptions together with increasing raw material prices are also a reason for the rise of consumer prices. The IMF expected this global inflation to reach its peak at the end of 2021 and return to pre-crisis levels in many countries by the middle of 2022.

The index is calculated by the IMF using the difference between the delivery time and production indices of the PMI. The higher the value, the more disturbances occur in global supply chains.
Infographic: Supply Chain Disruptions Make a Comeback | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista
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Russian President Vladimir Putin

President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia was ready to provide more gas to Europe if requested, emphatically rejecting the suggestion that Moscow was squeezing supplies for political motives.

“If they ask us to increase further, we are ready to increase further. We will increase by as much as our partners ask us. There is no refusal, none,” Putin told an energy conference in Moscow.

European gas prices have hit record levels this month, but the Kremlin has repeatedly denied that Russia is deliberately withholding supplies in order to exert pressure for quick regulatory approval of the new Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea to Germany.

Putin described as “complete nonsense” the accusation that Moscow was using energy as a political weapon.

Earlier, his spokesman said Russian gas giant Gazprom was supplying gas to Europe at maximum levels under existing contracts and any increase would need to be negotiated with the company.

“Nothing can be delivered beyond the contracts,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “How? For free? It is a matter of negotiating with Gazprom.”

Separately, deputy energy minister Pavel Sorokin said Russia had not changed its timetable for gas injection into storage facilities until Nov. 1, implying it was in no hurry to supply additional gas to Europe on the spot market.

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The wreckage of the L-410 plane

A plane carrying a group of parachute jumpers crashed after takeoff in the Russian region of Tatarstan early on Sunday, killing 16 people and injuring six, the Emergencies Ministry said.

At a height of 70 metres, the pilots reported that their left engine had failed and attempted an emergency landing near the city of Menzelinsk, trying to turn the plane leftward to avoid an inhabited area, the regional governor said.

But the aircraft’s wing hit a Gazelle vehicle as the plane landed and it overturned, Tatarstan’s governor Rustam Minnikhanov said.

The aircraft had been carrying 20 parachutists and two crew members. Six people were in a serious condition, the Health Ministry said.

The Let L-410 Turbolet twin-engine short-range transport aircraft was owned by an aeroclub in the city of Menzelinsk. The aeroclub declined to comment, citing a law enforcement investigation into the incident.

Cosmonauts use the area for training and the aeroclub has hosted local, European championships and one world championship, the club’s director Ravil Nurmukhametov said, according to TASS.

The Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes, said it had opened a criminal investigation into a suspected violation of safety regulations.

The state-run Cosmonaut Training Centre has suspended its ties with the aeroclub pending an investigation, TASS cited a source as saying.

Photographs of some of the parachutists on board posing in kit or with a plane were circulated on the REN TV channel and on social media.

Russian aviation safety standards have been tightened in recent years but accidents continue to happen, particularly in remote regions.

An ageing Antonov An-26 transport plane crashed in the Russian far east last month killing six people. All 28 people on board an Antonov An-26 twin-engine turboprop died in a crash in Kamchatka in July.

REUTERS
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Orenburg is located in the Southern Urals, at the junction of Europe and Asia

Russian authorities said on Saturday that 26 people had died from alcohol poisoning this week after consuming locally-produced spirits in the Orenburg region bordering Kazakhstan.

The death toll rose from nine reported on Thursday, the regional ministry told RIA news agency.

Another 28 people are suffering alcohol poisoning symptoms, it said.

The regional branch of the Investigative Committee of Russia has opened a probe to determine whether alcohol products sold in the region, some 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) southeast of Moscow, meet safety standards.

On Friday, the committee said that six people had been detained for allegedly producing and selling alcohol unfit for consumption.

After a case of mass alcohol poisoning in Siberia in 2016, national authorities ordered tighter controls on the production and sale of beverages, medicines, perfumes and other liquids containing a high percentage of ethanol.