Police raids thwart pounds 100m credit and cash card fraud

Ten arrests in South-east as counterfeit ring is broken
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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

More than 80,000 counterfeit credit cards have been seized after police smashed a criminal operation to defraud banks and building societies of millions of pounds.

Police believe this is the biggest attempted credit and cash dispenser card fraud of its kind and had the potential of netting pounds 100m a year. Counterfeiting cards is one of the fastest growing types of "plastic" fraud.

Ten men were arrested in a series of raids on Tuesday at addresses in south-east London and Kent in the police operation codenamed Zingle. As well as the fake cards, which were intended for use in cash dispenser machines, detectives seized computer equipment and three machines used to scan information, such as bank numbers, on to the cards' magnetic strips.

Police said about 20,000 fake cards produced by the gang have still to be recovered, although they are not believed to be in circulation.

The recovered plastic cards already bore magnetic information strips, but did not yet have any bank or credit card companies' logos or other identifying marks printed on them. Equipment was also recovered in raids on properties in Liverpool.

Tighter security measures by banks and building societies have seen the level of fraud on plastic cards drop from pounds 130m in 1993 to pounds 97m last year. However, police believe counterfeiting is rapidly increasing and has doubled in the past three years. It now accounts for about 10 per cent of all card fraud in the United Kingdom. Many of the fake cards are imported from the Far East, particularly Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong. The world market for fake cards is believed to be worth from pounds 150m to pounds 250m a year.

Operation Zingle, which involved about 100 officers from the Metropolitan Police and the Kent and Merseyside forces, was co-ordinated by Scotland Yard's Organised Crime Group's cheque and credit card squad.

The three-month operation culminated with the raids on property in Yalding, West Kingsdown in Kent, and Chislehurst, Thamesmead, Catford and Mottingham, all in south-east London.

The arrested men were being questioned at police stations across London and the South East. Scotland Yard said further arrests were expected.

Detective Superintendent Clifford Craig, of the Metropolitan Police Organised Crime Group, said that the fraud had the potential of netting in excess of pounds 100m a year. "We believe we have thwarted probably the biggest attempt to defraud the banking system through the cash card system," he said.

He added that it was not clear which banks would have been targeted in the fraud. The source of the cards is also being investigated.

"We know they had access to 100,000 cards and I wouldn't like to speculate on where the other 20,000 are. We frustrated this conspiracy before it had the chance of going live," he said.

Detective Inspector Les Fitzgerald, of the Central Cheque Squad, said that it was a far more sophisticated scam than simply stealing credit cards from the public.