Members of a multi-million pound organised crime gang specialising in providing fake identities and documents to thousands of customers were jailed today.
The gang ran its enterprise, Confidential Access (CA), from plush villas in Alicante, Spain, by providing bogus documents and coaching tips on how to commit fraud.
Police conducted a two-and-a-half year investigation which saw four men jailed at London's Southwark Crown Court.
Detectives revealed a well-practised production line of authentic-looking documents for committing fraud.
Many were bundled together and sold as full credit profiles including wage slips, credit history print-outs and a postal address making it possible for customers to defraud companies of thousands of pounds.
One of CA's top end products was called the Platinum Profile.
It cost £5,500 and came complete with instructions on how to commit identity fraud.
For £2,000, CA also sold the 100% Creditmaster profile which was exclusive to VIP members of the website.
But if the customer successfully committed fraud with it, CA would ask for 50% of the customer's first fraud or threaten to wreck the credit profile.
Web chat forums were a key part of the fraud providing clients with information, advice and coaching them on how to use the profiles and commit fraud, said the Metropolitan Police.
Some of the forums were free but others came at a cost.
A monthly subscription fee bought members access to forums where they could discuss how to use the identity documents to break the law and seek other tips and advice.
Access to the forums was graded and some were open only to those members who spent a specific amount of money and had gained a certain level of trust.
The top-tier member was classed as a VIP member and had access to a forum called The Black Marketplace.
This is where serious incriminating topics were discussed and hidden from the general public and non-VIP members.
Nautical terms were used to distinguish the varying levels of trust within the forums.
All new paying members would begin as deckhands and as they gained trust would climb the rank ladder from Skylarker to Shore Patrol, up to the Ship's Surgeon who was in charge.
Painstaking analysis of servers which had been seized from Hong Kong led to a breakthrough by officers when they cracked the highly sophisticated encryption codes opening up a treasure trove of evidence.
Detective Inspector Tim Dowdeswell said: "This was a sophisticated operation which has netted millions of pounds over the years.
"These cyber criminals not only provided the tools to commit fraud they instructed their clients in how to use them to make the maximum amount of money, whilst ruining real people's credit histories into the bargain.
"We have already brought many of their students in crime to court and will continue to work with other police forces and partners to bring those people who bought and used these identities in their own frauds to justice."
The operation was run by Jason Place and Barry Sales from the comfort of their villas in Alicante while employees based around the UK would monitor the CA website and work on producing various documents, including false bank statements, wage slips, driving licences and utility bills.
Place, 42 of Aurora Court, Romulus Road, Gravesend, Kent, was jailed for six years and nine months for conspiracy to defraud.
Sales escaped justice, with the Crown Prosecution Service deciding not to prosecute because he is terminally ill.
Of the 11,000 clients who used CA's services, some spent more than £20,000 on false documentation.
Some clients went on to commit fraud of their own which in some cases totalled more than £1 million.
Mark Powell-Richards, 59, a credit broker and antiques dealer of Nightingale Lane, Bickley, Kent, was sentenced to two years and three months for conspiracy to defraud.
Allen Stringer, 57, of Coldwell Road, Crossgates, Leeds was jailed for the same term and charge.
Michael Daly, 68, a former chauffeur of Stone Court, High Street, Erith, Kent, was sentenced to 12 months suspended for two years and ordered to carry out 250 hours of unpaid community service for conspiracy to defraud.
Jaipal Singh, 31, a telecoms company director, of Franchise Street, Wednesbury, West Midlands was sentenced to 18 months for conspiracy to defraud and student Arun Thear, 22, of Walsall Road, West Bromwich, West Midlands, was sentenced to six months suspended for two years and ordered to carry out 150 hours' unpaid community service for forgery, contrary to section 1 of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981.
All six had pleaded guilty at earlier hearings.
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