Police have smashed a £113 million international fraud and money laundering ring, which has seen nine fraudsters jailed for over 27 years, yesterday, Wednesday, 21 September.
The proactive investigation was led by the Met’s FALCON (Fraud and Linked Crime Online) Taskforce, supported by 16 police forces across the UK, including Suffolk Police. Ten other individuals connected with the case were sentenced earlier in the year, receiving sentences totalling over 12 years.
The organised criminal network (OCN), led by Feezan Hameed, 25 (17.01.91) of Albert Road, Glasgow (also known as Feezan Choudhary) and his brother Nouman Chaudhary 21 (25.9.94) of the same targeted thousands of Lloyds and RBS business banking customers using sophisticated ‘social engineering’ techniques to persuade the businesses to reveal their internet banking details.
Hameed was responsible for cold calling the victims; purporting to be from their bank’s fraud department and using various aliases, he was able to dupe customers into revealing online account information which enabled him and his associates - based around the country - to access hundreds of online business accounts and steal vast sums of money.
Three corrupt bank employees were also recruited to the gang, who supplied customers’ account details and helped launder the money.
On receipt of the account’s internet banking details, the gang would log into the account, transferring large amounts of cash from the victim’s account into ‘mule accounts’ under the gang’s control. These sums would be quickly siphoned through the banking system into further mule accounts before being withdrawn in cash from ATMs and bank branches around the UK, often within hours of the original fraud.
The money was then used to finance the gang’s luxury lifestyle, both in the UK and in Pakistan.
In many cases victims were defrauded of hundreds of thousands of pounds, with several businesses nearly going bankrupt as a result. One victim alone was defrauded of over £2 million.
Between January 2013 and October 2015 the OCN took £113 million from over 750 victims, of which £47 million has been recovered. Detectives believe most of the outstanding £66 million has been laundered from the UK to Dubai and Pakistan.
Officers are now using Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) legislation to pursue asset confiscation and forfeiture to return losses to the victims. The gang pleaded guilty to a smaller number of specimen offences amounting to £19 million of fraud and money laundering in total. Police are pursuing the gang for all the outstanding money.
An intelligence-led operation was launched by the FALCON Taskforce in April 2015, following reports of frauds perpetrated against bank business customers across the UK. FALCON co-ordinated the investigation across 16 forces, with the frauds being linked on account of their similar methodology and the ‘script’ used during the calls. Between April and September 2015, search warrants and arrests were made in East London, Essex and Cardiff.
An extensive proactive covert operation was undertaken in London, Thames Valley and Scotland against the network and on 21 October a co-ordinated day of action saw search warrants executed in Watford, Ilford, Luton, Slough, Glasgow and Edinburgh, resulting in eleven arrests. Numerous items of evidence were recovered, including over £120,000 cash, gold bars, over 100 bank cards with PINs in other people’s names, card readers, dongles, SIM cards, mobile phones and laptops.
Feezan Hameed evaded arrest and an appeal was issued for information about his whereabouts. He was subsequently arrested at Charles de Gaule Airport in Paris on Friday, 13 November, attempting to fly to Pakistan on a fraudulent passport.
Subsequently nine individuals were sentenced at Snaresbrook Crown Court on various dates between May and August. A further ten have now been sentenced at Southwark Crown Court.
Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Gould, head of FALCON’s Taskforce said: “This was the largest covert proactive operation the Met has ever undertaken against cyber-enabled crime. It demonstrates our commitment and ability to dismantle organised criminal networks in order to keep businesses safe from this type of crime.
“Customers can protect themselves by always exercising caution when called by someone claiming to be from their bank, even if the number they are ringing from appears to be genuine. Telephone numbers are easily faked. Never give out private information such as passwords, parts of passwords, PINs, card reader numbers, memorable information or other personal details. If a bank believes your account is being compromised they will act to prevent this without asking for your assistance”.
The following nine individuals (eight men and one woman) were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court, between last Friday 16 September and today, Wednesday 21 September:
[A] Feezan Hameed, 25 (17.01.91) of Albert Road, Glasgow pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and conspiracy to conceal / disguise / convert transfer / remove criminal property (launder money) and was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment (seven years for conspiracy to defraud / four years for conspiracy to launder money, to run consecutively).
[B] Syed Haider, 31 (2.2.85) of Heswell Gardens, Slough pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and conspiracy to launder money and was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.
[C] Bushra Shabab, 30 (24.11.85) of Heswell Gardens, Slough pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and was sentenced to two years, suspended for two years.
[D] Nouman Chaudhary, 21 (25.9.94) of Albert Road, Glasgow pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and was sentenced to three-and-a-half years’ imprisonment.
[E] Bilal Ahmed, 27 (20.9.89) of Wellwood Road, Ilford pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and was sentenced to three years and four months’ imprisonment.
[F] Mohammed Mehtab, 35 (15.12.80) of Westwick Place, Watford pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and was sentenced to eight months, suspended for two years.
[G] Abdul Iqbal, 23 (16.12.92) of Mountcastle Crescent, Edinburgh pleaded guilty to conspiracy to money launder and was sentenced to 21 months’ imprisonment.
[H] Syed Ali Amish, 24 (09.09.92) of Pomfret Avenue, Luton pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and was sentenced to 32 months’ imprisonment.
[K] Mohammed Azhar, 38 (21.12.77) of Rivington Apartments, Railway Terrace, Slough pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and conspiracy to launder money and was sentenced to 32 months’ imprisonment.
+ Waqar Aslam [I] and Mohammed Akram [J] were found not guilty of conspiracy to launder money on 9 September 2016.
[L] Ayesha Nadeem, (15.03.91) of Percy Street, Glasgow pleaded guilty to money laundering and was sentenced to 20 weeks on 9 May 2016.
Nine individuals have already been sentenced at Snaresbrook Crown Court, as follows:
[M] Naveen Devalapally (20.12.76 - 38yrs), of Walton Road E13 was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud and conspiracy to launder money and on 9 August was sentenced to six-and-a-half years’ imprisonment.
[N] Naresh Somu (7.5.88 - 27yrs) of Glenny Road IG11 was found guilty of conspiracy to launder money and on 9 August was sentenced to 10 weeks’ imprisonment.
[O] Amy Daramola (1.10.91 - 24yrs) of Napier Road E6 pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud by abuse of position and on 11 July was sentenced to two years’ suspended
[P] Emma Daramola (22.10.92 - 22yrs) of Napier Road E6 pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud by abuse of position and on 11 July was sentenced to 16 months’ suspended
[Q] Jason Branche (19.9.89 - 26yrs) of Chevron Close E16 pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud by abuse of position and on 11 July was sentenced to one year suspended
[R] Sharmila Ravichandran (21.3.93 - 22yrs) of Salisbury Road, Cardiff was found guilty of money laundering and on 20 May was sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment.
[S] Nikita Kadam (25.5.91 - 24yrs) of Newport Road, Cardiff was found guilty of money laundering and on 20 May was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment.
[T] Harishakthimalayan Ponnusamy (19.9.92 - 23 yrs), of Mark Street, Cardiff was found guilty of money laundering and on 20 May was sentenced to 11 months’ imprisonment.
[U] Jones Opare-Addo (3.10.57 - 58yrs), of Petersfield Rise SW15 was found guilty of five years’ imprisonment.