'iPhone fraudsters' held in raids
Police shut down a global criminal conspiracy suspected of milking millions from stolen iPhones through premium phone lines today.
Nine people accused of co-ordinating the sophisticated scam were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud in a series of early morning raids.
City of London Police detectives swooped on homes in Forest Gate and Southall in London, Southend, Walsall, central Birmingham and Middlesbrough.
They seized dozens of mobile phones, hundreds of sim cards, computers, documentation, stolen bank cards, several fake passports and cash.
The raids followed a month-long investigation into a rapidly growing criminal conspiracy profiting from the theft and illegal use of almost 1,000 iPhones.
Police were called in after mobile phone company 02 watched the scam spiral out of control, with €1.45m stolen through premium phone lines in July alone.
Sim cards were being shipped abroad and plugged into automatic dialling machines calling lines around the clock that charge up to £10 (€12) a minute.
The cards were racking up enormous bills in a matter of weeks which were settled immediately by O2 but never repaid by their 'ghost' owners.
Police believe a gang of West African fraudsters bought the iPhones and contracts from high street stores using dodgy credit cards and false identities.
The handsets were sold to a middleman and delivered to him by a ring of up to 29 corrupt delivery drivers in Wiltshire, Somerset and Northamptonshire.
The Birmingham-based middleman then split the sim cards and handsets in what criminals dub "box breaking".
The Sim cards were then sold to a London and Essex-based crime gang responsible for the premium phone line swindle.
The handsets were sent to criminal contacts overseas, where they can fetch up to €546 each as mobile phone companies are unable to block them.
The middleman's girlfriend, based in Walsall, is suspected of recruiting the delivery drivers and buying more phones online and by telephone.
Police arrested several members of the premium phone line gang, all of whom are of Pakistani origin, at homes in Forest Gate, Southall and Southend.
They are suspected of setting up a complex network of shell companies to launder the profits from the premium phone lines and hide their identities.
At one home in Forest Gate, police found hundreds of Sim cards, €18,200-worth of iPhones still in their boxes, 20 bank cards and several fake passports.
At another property they also found hundreds of letters that had been prepared to try and con people out of their savings with a promise of a lottery win, a scam known as a 419 con.
Investigators have traced the stolen handsets and sim cards all over the world, including several countries in the Middle East, continental Europe and Vietnam.
They want to know where the profits went, as many of those involved lived "under the radar" in council houses with few obvious assets, apart from relatively smart cars.
Detective Superintendent Bob Wishart, of City of London Police, which is the national lead force for fraud, said: "Today we have struck at the very heart of a highly sophisticated criminal network that has been targeting the telecommunications industry to steal millions of pounds.
"Our investigation found a crime gathering momentum. Each month more Sim cards were being used to make more phone calls to premium rate lines at more expense to the network provider.
"The criminal exploitation of the latest consumer technology is a recurring theme of our work.
"Our collaboration with O2 on this investigation highlights the benefits of how the private sector can work with the police to proactively target common threats to our communities."
Adrian Goreham, who is responsible for tackling fraud at O2, said: "This was a sophisticated and organised attempt to defraud mobile phone operators.
"We are committed to reducing mobile phone crime and have a dedicated team that monitors and investigates such attempted criminal activity.
"We are extremely pleased that our own investigation and the information we have shared with the City of London Police has resulted in these arrests."
A police spokesman said those arrested were aged between 18 and 42.