Recently, police have made a move to dismantle a network of criminal activity that involved global-wide fraud. In this case, the fraud was perpetrated with stolen iPhones that were used to access premium rate phone lines.
The scam was operated on a highly complex level and is believed to have made the thieves millions of pounds through the UK mobile phone network. The arrests included eight men and one woman on charges of suspicion of conspiracy to defraud. The early morning arrests were made in a series of raids across the UK, conducted in August.
Police officials had initiated their investigation of this complex fraud by tracing mobile phones that had been purchased by using fake identities. Once the phones were purchased, the SIM cards were used to access premium rate phone lines. The phone lines were allegedly owned by those who were involved in the scam.
Dozens of mobile phones along with hundreds of SIM cards were seized in the raids. Additionally, fraudulent documentation and thousands of pounds in cash were also confiscated. The raids encompassed residences in Walsall, Southend, Middlesbrough, Birmingham and locations in London. These raids came after a month-long investigation of a growing conspiracy that involved the illegal use and theft of nearly a thousand mobile phones. The overwhelming majority of these were iPhones.
One of the major networks that was hit by this scam was O2. In just the month of July, they recorded a loss of £1.2m that had been stolen through the fraudulent use of premium phone lines. Law enforcement authorities were then contacted and given the results of O2’s investigation. O2 then worked in partnership with London police to complete the fraud investigation.
Police believe that a West African gang purchased the phones through contracts while using fraudulent identities obtained through identity theft. This also included the use of fraudulently obtained or stolen credit cards. The iPhones were particularly targeted because of their resale value. After the phones had been purchased, they were then sold to a Birmingham-based middleman. At that point, the handsets and the SIM cards were split prior to being sold overseas to associated criminal contacts.
The SIM cards were used in the premium phone line scam by a gang based in Essex and London, as well as abroad. A SIM card would be removed from a phone and then plugged into an automatic dialing machine. Premium lines owned by those heading the conspiracy were then repeatedly called and up to £10 a minute was charged. Huge bills were accrued in just a matter of weeks and paid by the various mobile networks. However, when the registered owners were contacted for payment, it became apparent that they had been the victims of identity theft fraud. The suspects had, at that point, set up an elaborate network of offshore companies designed to launder their profits while keeping their identities secret.
In addition to the SIM cards, iPhones and cash discovered, police also found bank cards and fake passports. Another property revealed hundreds of scam letters that were meant to con people out of cash by promising bogus lottery winnings. This is known as the infamous 419 con or Nigerian scam.
Authorities have traced the SIM cards and stolen handsets throughout the world to include countries in Europe, the Middle East and Vietnam. However, there is an on-going investigation to determine where the profits were sent. Unfortunately, many of those who profited tend to live “under the radar” without many obvious assets aside from a few expensive cars.
On a positive note, authorities have struck a major blow to a highly complex criminal network that had been stealing millions from the telecommunications industry. In addition, the cost to those who have experienced identity theft in this scam had been extremely high.
Additionally, this investigation, which saw the collaboration of O2 with police officials, pointed out how the private sector can aid in law enforcement.