Police smash £12m computer fraud gang

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The Independent Online

A high-tech international crime gang that targeted one of the world's largest computer companies has been smashed by police.

Detectives suspect the group pocketed up to £12 million by ruthlessly exploiting the warranty system of IT giant Cisco.

City of London Police believe crooks used inside information and fake consumer identities to make bogus claims for parts under guarantee.

The equipment, which included servers, networking technology and data storage, was worth up to £190,000 for each part.

A network of front companies based in England, Germany and the United States, as well as eBay accounts, were then used to re-sell it to unsuspecting customers.

One senior detective involved in the case said some of the parts were worth more than their weight in gold.

Police swung into action after internal auditors at the company raised concerns that a series of faulty equipment claims were false.

Cisco discovered replacement parts were being fraudulently ordered and supplied while still under guarantee to dozens of rented warehouses in London, Nottingham and Manchester.

The equipment was ordered under names such as Frank Lampard, William Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy as well as Mr Henry, Mr George and Mr Fred.

Paperwork has been found indicated gang members were operating on instructions sent via Hotmail accounts from masterminds based in China.

It was then picked up by couriers using rented vehicles who passed them on to a resale company, Xtop Systems, based in Altrincham, Manchester.

Police said the company employed a handful of local sales staff who were not aware of where the equipment came from.

Three men and a woman, all Chinese nationals and aged in their early thirties, were arrested in Basingstoke, in Hampshire, Barnet in north London, and Ealing, west London.

The suspects, who were allowed into the country on student visas, were questioned on suspicion of conspiracy to commit fraud and have been released on bail.

A fifth suspect, a woman who worked as a director of the Manchester company, fled Britain and travelled to Beijing via Germany.

Investigators said the front company has links to Frankfurt, the United States and Hong Kong and similar scams may be operating in German, Belgium and Holland.

Investigators have seized 87 boxes of equipment believed to be worth £1 million from several addresses across England.

Cisco supplies key components worth between £10,000 and £200,000 to large businesses, including local authorities and Government departments.

Detective Chief Inspector Paul Barnard, of City of London Police, said the gang targeted one of the world's leading blue chip companies.

"By working closely with Cisco, we have dismantled an organised crime gang committing fraud against a leading global technology company.

"At the same time, we have together provided further evidence of what an effective force police and business can be when they come together to fight fraud."

A Cisco spokesman said: "Counterfeiting and fraud are very serious issues that impact the entire high-tech industry on a global level.

"Cisco and other leading IT companies have been actively addressing these issues for several years.

"In this particular case, Cisco's internal investigative teams uncovered the serious abuse of Cisco's service warranty programme in its early stages and brought it immediately to the attention of the authorities.

"We are partnering closely with the City of London Police and will continue to co-operate and support law enforcement in this ongoing investigation."