8 Jun 2012

Identity theft fraud gang jailed

As six men are sentenced for carrying out a sophisticated multi-million pound identity fraud, Channel 4 News explains how they carried out the scam.

It was the gold star service for identity thieves – a website offering bespoke, near-perfect forged documents that allowed criminals to hijack almost every aspect of a victim’s life.

From gas bills to drivers’ licences, wage slips to tax returns, Confidential Access could duplicate almost any document. The site’s owners even employed fake receptionists to impersonate a victim’s employer.

The website’s customers used the illegal documents to buy houses, take out loans and perpetrate fraud worth millions of pounds.

On Friday, the website’s co-founder Jason Place, pictured above, was sentenced to six years and nine months behind bars. Three others were also sent to jail for between 18 and 27 months while two received suspended sentences.

The operation they ran served around 11,000 customers. For £30 a visitor to the site could pick up a fake birth certificate. But as they spent more money, the users gained access to more and more documents. The most protected area of the site was called the black marketplace, which claimed to offer almost any illegal item.

At the top level was the Platinum Profile. For £5,500 a criminal was given an entire set of documents in the name of an innocent victim with a good credit rating. So accurate were the forgeries that they even used the same weight of paper as the genuine documents.

How the scam worked.

The scam often worked like this:

1. Confidential Access workers would scour services such as 192.com, the online address search service, to find innocent victims’ names and addresses.

2. They would then carry out credit checks on the victims using a service such as Experian, looking for victims with a good credit rating.

3. They would then create fake documents in the victim’s name – pay slips, utility bills, tax returns, driver’s licence, etc.

4. They would then select a vacant house, for example by checking properties being cleared for auction.

5. All these details would be sent to the would-be fraudster, along with instructions on how to perpetrate the fraud. The pack would even contain a picture of the vacant house and a map, in case the fraudster was asked for details of the property.

6. Having assumed the victim’s identity the criminal would then approach a bank, claiming to have recently moved from the victim’s address to the vacant house. The forged documents would be produced to prove this.

7. One of the fake documents would be a reference letter from an employer. The letter would contain a telephone number for the employer, and the bank employee would phone it, believing it to be genuine. But the phone number instead led to a “virtual office”, where a fake receptionist would answer pretending to work for the company. The receptionist would tell the bank to expect a call back. Another impersonator would then call the bank pretending to be the employee’s boss, “confirming” their employment.

8. With the bank fooled, the fraudster would ask for a mortgage, a loan or a credit card.

9. The fraudster would buy a house and rent it out, pocketing the rental income while failing to pay the mortgage. When the bank moved in to repossess the property, the fraudster would disappear with the money. Attempts to trace him would lead to a series of fake addresses.

How to protect yourself 

1. Carry out a credit check on yourself using a service such as Experian or Equifax - for just a couple of pounds it will alert you to previous attempts to hijack your identity. Make regular checks.

2. Credit check companies often offer a service under which they will alert you to any changes to your credit history. They usually charge - but it means you will be tipped off quickly to any new attempts to gain credit in your name.

3. Look out for suspicious post arriving at your address - fraudsters sometimes target properties with the aim of building up a credit history at that address.

4. Make sure you are on the full version of the electoral register and NOT on the edited electoral register (the edited version is sold to commercial companies). You can find out details of your nearest Electoral Registration Office here. Fraudsters can search the commercially available register to find identities to steal.

‘One-stop shop’ service for fraudsters

The website’s owners believed that they were not breaking the law by providing the forgeries because making “fun” documents such a driver’s licence in a celebrity’s name, is not illegal.

However, providing documents specifically for the purposes of fraud is illegal, and as the police moved in it became clear that Confidential Access had been providing a “one-stop shop” service for fraudsters.

A letter sent to Confidential Access customers stated: “It is called identity theft … We have put everything in place; all we ask for is 50 per cent of your first hit. If you don’t hit £40k within 6 weeks you are playing the game wrong.”

A Metropolitan Police raid on Place’s Spanish villa revealed a sophisticated forgery workshop, complete with high-quality printers, different weights of paper for different documents, and even UV-responsive inks of the type used in drivers’ licences and passports.

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