Police break up pounds 36m fraud ring: Armed officers arrest five in covert operation

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The Independent Online
A SOPHISTICATED attempt to defraud the Department of Social Security of up to pounds 36m by using counterfeit benefit books and fake identity documents was foiled by police yesterday.

Five men were being questioned last night following a raid by armed police on a shop in Brixton, south London, where detectives discovered up to 10,000 counterfeit pension and allowance books, each worth up to pounds 4,000 in benefits.

Alongside the books were thousands of copies of forged, blank English and Irish birth certificates and drivers' licences, to provide proof of identity for claims.

Detectives said last night that the forgeries were of 'high quality'. It is believed that they had been produced elsewhere and brought to Brixton for packaging with the identity documents before being sold on the black market. Police said that in one room they found a colour photocopier with birth certificates in the processs of being copied, surrounded by bundles of driving licences.

Three men were arrested during the raid and two more who arrived later were also detained. The five men, English and Irish, all from south London and aged from 18 to the mid-fifties, were being questioned at a north London police station. Forensic scientists and members of the department's organised fraud unit later moved in to assess the size of the operation, which is believed to be one of the biggest discovered.

Detective Superintendent Alan Elmes, of the South-eastern Regional Crime Squad, said the arrests followed a three-week surveillance and undercover investigation.

He said the shop, which sold glass, was believed to be a front for the racket. 'The main business of the shop seemed to be happening upstairs where they had their counterfeit operation set up in two rooms.

'It looks like many of the documents may have been brought here stapled together. It is likely they were going to put them together with the blank birth certificates and drivers' licences. They would have then been sold as a package to members of the criminal fraternity who would have passed them in DSS offices. The forgeries were of high quality.'

Further inquiries were needed to establish where the documents had been made. 'It is too early to say if we have caught everybody involved.'