Charlie is 20 years old. He has barely done an honest day’s work, yet, if he is to be believed, he lives quite the lavish lifestyle. He drives a £55,000 BMW M4, holidays in the Maldives, Dubai and Spain, and has a cache of designer clothes and Rolex watches. He pulls, he estimates, “around £250,000 a year”, which he “splits with a couple others”.

Charlie – not his real name – is what is known in the trade as a prolific scammer. He makes his money through online shopping fraud on a grand scale from the safety of his bedroom, a coffee shop or his car. It is not just regular online fraud, however, but trading in information – known as “methods” – that facilitates others to carry out online fraud.

Today he is speaking to me in a car parked up on a side road in Brixton, south London, and he wears a balaclava and sunglasses to hide his identity. We have been introduced by Abdul Karim Abdullah, 35, a youth worker who has observed with growing alarm how tech-savvy youths from low-income families have been sucked into cybercrime. It has taken months of cajoling for Charlie – whom Karim has known for six years and is hoping to turn legit – to agree to meet.

Karim said: “Cybercrime is becoming more popular than county lines. Since Covid we have seen a massive rise.” Charlie interrupted: “It’s already way more popular than county lines.” How does he know? “I live right in the centre of it and I know both worlds. It’s much less risk and…

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