Billion Euro Cyber Suspect Arrested in Spain

Billion Euro Cyber Suspect Arrested in Spain
A cyber-crime mastermind suspected of stealing about £870m (€1bn) has been arrested in Spain. The individual is alleged to be the head of the organised crime gang that ran the Carbanak and Cobalt malware campaigns that targeted banks.

Europol said the group had been active since 2013 and infiltrated more than 100 banks in that time. Cash was siphoned off via bank transfers or dispensed automatically through cash machines. The arrest was a “significant success” against a top cyber-crime group, Steven Wilson, head of Europol’s Cyber-Crime Centre (EC3), which co-ordinated the long-running, cross-border investigation into the group. said in a statement.

“The arrest of the key figure in this crime group illustrates that cyber-criminals can no longer hide behind perceived international anonymity,” he said.

The cyber-thieves got their malware on to bank networks by sending key staff booby-trapped phishing emails, said Europol. The gang used three separate generations of malware, each one more sophisticated than the last, to penetrate and then lurk on financial networks.

Once the machines of key staff were compromised, the gang used their remote access to banking networks to steal money in several different ways.

  • cash machines were ordered to remotely dispense money at specific times – letting mules and other gang members scoop up the notes
  • inter-bank money transfer systems were instructed to move cash into criminal accounts
  • databases were altered to increase account balances. Mules then removed the money via cash machines

Money was laundered via crypto-currencies and payment cards, which were used to buy luxury goods including cars and houses.

Europol, the FBI, cyber-security firms and polices forces in Spain, Romania, Belarus and Taiwan all collaborated to track down the gang, said the European policing agency.

Zuckerberg asks ‘Authoritative’ Person to Answer MPs Questions

Facebook: Zuckerberg asks ‘Authoritative’ Person to Answer MPs Questions
The BBC are reporting that Facebook have said ‘no’ in response to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee’s request that its co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg appear to answer questions over users data.

It its letter to the committee’s chair Damian Collins, it says: “Facebook fully recognises the level of public and parliamentary interest in these issues and support your belief that these issues must be addressed at the most senior levels of the company by those in an authoritative position to answer your questions.

“As such Mr Zuckerberg has personally asked one of his deputies to make themselves available to give evidence in person to the committee.”

First & Second Class Stamp Prices Increase

First & Second Class Stamp Prices Increase
The 2p price rise in the cost of first and second class stamps has now taken effect. A first-class stamp now costs 67p and a second-class stamp now costs 58p, under the price rises that came into force on Monday.

Stamps bought before the price rise can still be used without any need to top-up the cost.

Royal Mail said the squeeze on consumer finances was considered when setting the new price. But it added that the price rise was needed to maintain the universal postal service, which means that the price of a stamp is the same irrespective of where in the UK the letter is sent from and to.

If the price of a first-class stamp had risen in line with inflation since 1989, it would now cost 41p.

Toys R Us to Close all US Stores

Toys R Us to Close all US Stores
Toys R Us will close or sell all its 885 stores in the US after failing to find a buyer, putting about 30,000 jobs under threat. Chief executive Dave Brandon said it was a “profoundly sad day” for the retailer. The giant toy-store chain was already in the process of closing one fifth of its shops after filing for bankruptcy protection last year.

Toys R Us will also close all its UK stores by the end of April.

The UK collapse will put more than 3,000 people out of work as a dismal period for the retail sector continues.

However, the company said it could resurrect 200 of the best-performing US stores if talks to combine these with its Canadian operations prove successful.

Mr Brandon said in a statement released late on Wednesday: “This is a profoundly sad day for us as well as the millions of kids and families who we have served for the past 70 years. I have always believed that this brand and this business should exist in the US.”

Toys R Us said it would provide more details about the plans in the near term. The company is trying to sell its Canadian and international operations in Asia and Europe, including Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Australia, France, Poland, Portugal and Spain are considering their options, including potential sale processes in their respective markets, but the retailer is likely to go into liquidation in France, Spain, Poland and Australia, Mr Brandon said.

The US parent company filed for bankruptcy in September.

The business was bought in 2005 by a group of investors, including private equity firms Bain Capital and KKR, which loaded it with about $5bn (£3.6bn) in debt. The company was landed with interest payments that were as much as $400m a year.

In the UK Toys R Us joins a long list of high-street retailers, including Maplin and Claire’s, that have run into difficulties this year. Many have been hit by changes in consumer spending habits, a squeeze on disposable income, higher inflation and the extra cost of the national living wage, and the prospect of increases in business rates in April.


MP’s Call for Unpaid Shifts to be Illegal

MP’s Call for Unpaid Shifts to be Illegal
Some MPs and lawyers have called for a blanket ban on unpaid shift work. Companies can currently invite prospective employees to do trial shifts with the carrot of a job at the end.

But there has been a six-fold increase over three years in complaints over unpaid shifts, trade union Unite said.

The Federation of Small Businesses said unpaid shifts are a valuable part of the recruitment process, but shouldn’t cross the line into exploitation.

On Friday a private members bill which seeks to make unpaid trials illegal will get its second parliamentary reading.

Charles Darwin Paper £10 Notes Out

Charles Darwin Paper £10 Notes Out
Bank of England paper £10 notes are being accepted in shops for a final day before being officially withdrawn. The Charles Darwin notes have been gradually replaced by the polymer Jane Austen note since September.

From Friday, anyone with the banknote will need to deposit it at their bank as shops will be entitled to refuse it.

At the same time, a collection of new 10p coins featuring 26 designs celebrating Britain – from cricket to queuing – are entering circulation.

Millions still out there

Officially, any bank, building society or retailer is within their rights to refuse an old paper £10 note from Friday. Only the Bank of England in London will accept them without question in the future.

Yet all the major banks and the Post Office have said they will continue to accept deposits of these notes, featuring the portrait of naturalist Charles Darwin, from their own customers. They have been under pressure to do so from the Federation of Small Businesses, which said this would help get the older versions out of circulation quicker.

At the last count, the Bank of England estimates that 211 million of these old notes are unreturned.

Maplin in Talks with Potential Buyers

Maplin in Talks with Potential Buyers
One of Britain’s biggest electronics retailers is in talks with potential buyers amid reports it is seeking to head off the threat of administration. Maplin, which has more than 200 stores and 2,500 staff, hopes to strike a deal this week, the company said.

News of a possible sale, first reported by Sky News, comes after insurers withdrew credit cover last year because of falling profits.

Maplin, owned by Rutland Partners, is the latest High Street name in trouble. A string of clothing retailers and restaurants, plus Toys R Us UK, have all run into financial problems in recent months.

However, Maplin said it expected to be able to unveil a “solvent sale” within days. “Once secured this will stabilise the business to the benefit of all stakeholders and provide Maplin with the financial firepower to deliver its 2020 multi-channel strategy focused on smart tech,” the company said in a statement. That is a reference to its 2020 Vision Strategy to take on competition from the likes of Amazon by not just selling smart devices, but installing them as well.

Sky News reported that the potential buyers include Edinburgh Woollen Mill, the clothing company that owns Peacocks, Country Casuals and several other retailers. It was also reported that if Maplin could not find an outright buyer, it would consider a so-called pre-pack sale. Under this arrangement Maplin would line up a sale before going into administration, with the new buyer emerging almost immediately with the most profitable assets.

Jeremy Corbyn Vows to Curb City of London’s Power

Jeremy Corbyn Vows to Curb City of London’s Power
Jeremy Corbyn is vowing to take on the City of London if he becomes prime minister, saying finance should be “the servant of industry, not the masters of us all”. The Labour leader will call for a “fundamental rethink” of the finance sector and how it is regulated. He will also promise to give the government new powers to intervene to prevent “hostile takeovers”.

The Tories said Labour would “end up harming Britain’s businesses”.

Mr Corbyn has often criticised bankers, and promised a “fundamental shift” in economic policy if he wins power.

In a speech to the EEF manufacturers’ organisation on Tuesday, he will say his administration would be the first in 40 years – a period which includes 13 years of Labour government – to “stand up for the real economy”.

“There can be no rebalancing of our distorted, sluggish and unequal economy without taking on the power of finance,” he will say. “For 40 years, deregulated finance has progressively become more powerful. Its dominance over industry, obvious and destructive; its control of politics, pernicious and undemocratic.”

A Labour government, he will say, “will take decisive action to make finance the servant of industry, not the masters of us all”.

Mr Corbyn will point to the ongoing attempt by manufacturing turnaround firm Melrose to gain control of engineering giant GKN as a further example of “short-term performance and narrow shareholder value (being) prioritised over long-run growth and broader economic benefit”. Labour would broaden the scope of the public interest test applied to such takeovers, he will say.

Responding to his remarks for the Conservatives, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury Robert Jenrick said: “Labour don’t know how to handle the economy and would end up harming Britain’s businesses, and there would be fewer good jobs for people as a result. We are stepping in to make sure businesses play by the rules, after Labour’s failure to properly regulate the banks.”

At the same EEF event, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox will hail the UK’s manufacturing sector, saying the government is already “laying the groundwork” for new trading relationships across Africa and Asia after Brexit.

Thousands Face Fine for Late Tax Returns

Thousands Face Fine for Late Tax Returns
A total of 746,000 people missed the deadline to file their self-assessment tax return, risking a fine of £100. Some 11.4 million people, primarily those with more than one source of income and the self-employed, were required to complete returns.

The deadline for those filling in paper forms was the end of October. Online returns should have been completed by the end of Wednesday.

The UK tax authority said a record number filed on time. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said 10.7 million submitted details on time, but 6.5% missed the deadline, compared with 7% last year.

Angela MacDonald, director general for customer services at HMRC, said: “We want the number missing the deadline to be zero, and we will continue to adapt the process to make it easier and simpler for all our customers until every return is in on time and without avoidable errors. If you’re one of the small number that missed the deadline, please submit your return now to avoid further penalties. We really don’t want penalties, we just want tax returns.”

The current system means HMRC could demand a penalty of £100 for late filing during the first three months after the deadline. After three months, additional penalties of £10 per day can be demanded, up to a maximum of £900, followed by further charges six and 12 months after the deadline.

However, the government is working on plans to introduce a points-based system, similar to driving offences, for those who fail to submit their tax returns on time, rather than an automatic fine. Under the planned changes, they would instead receive points and have to pay fines after a certain threshold was reached. Points would also be wiped off the record after a certain period of time.

This could begin with VAT in the 2019 tax year, before income tax is added to the system later, but some accountants are concerned that people may mistakenly believe such a change had already come into force.

Amazon 2017 Sales Increase by a Third

Amazon 2017 Sales Increase by a Third
Online retailer Amazon saw sales jump by nearly a third last year, helped by growth in its Prime delivery service. Full-year revenue came in at $177.9bn (£124.6bn), a rise of 31%, while profit hit $3bn, against $2.4bn in 2016. The company reported record sales in the final three months of the year, driven by a surge in online shopping over the holiday season and demand for its cloud services.

Shares in Amazon rose by 6% in after-hours trading. The company said more than five billion items were sent using its Prime shipping service worldwide in 2017. It added that more “new paid” members joined the scheme than in any previous year, both worldwide and in the US. More than four million people signed up in one week alone last quarter Amazon said. Prime members have access to fast shipping, exclusive TV shows on Amazon Prime Video and extra benefits when using the company’s voice-controlled Alexa digital assistant.

Amazon has focused on boosting Prime subscribers, which its chief financial officer has previously called its “most important customer base”. Prime subscribers tend to do more shopping with the company, although Amazon has not said how many people it has signed up so far.

The company’s boss Jeff Bezos said projections for its Alexa assistant had been very optimistic and the company had “far exceeded them. We don’t see positive surprises of this magnitude very often – expect us to double down.”

The company said fourth-quarter sales rose by 38% to hit a quarterly record of $60.5bn (£42.4bn). Fourth-quarter profits more than doubled to $1.9bn against $749m in the last three months of 2016.

The figures were boosted by a tax benefit of about $789m related to the new US tax law.

The results also include the contribution from the Whole Foods grocery store chain, which Amazon bought last year. “This was another blow-out quarter for Amazon,” said analyst Daniel Ives of GBH Insights. “The retail strength was eye-popping as the company had a banner holiday season and looked to capture roughly 50% of all e-commerce holiday season sales.”