The UK's biggest ever cyber scammers stole £113m by calling victims pretending to be from their bank.
Feezan Choudhary (the ringleader) grew so rich from this scam that he bought a property portfolio in Pakistan, Dubai and Scotland, went on £100,000 shopping trips at Harrods, bought £45,000 Rolex watches and enjoyed luxury holidays in the Middle East where he was pictured strolling in the desert with a tiger.
He posed as a hot-shot music producer and property developer and owned a fleet of flash cars including a Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini and two Porsches.
The Burnley-born criminal fleeced over 750 British firms to fund his millionaire playboy lifestyle. Raking in £3million a month by cold-calling bank customers, he ruined hundreds of lives and put small businesses on the brink of bankruptcy – leaving one victim so distraught that she committed suicide.
He was jailed for 11 years along with members of his 19-strong gang.
Southwark Crown Court heard how Amy and Emma Daramola, two sisters who worked as Lloyds customer services assistants, were paid £250 for each bank statement they could hand over.
Choudhary phoned businesses claiming to be from their bank, saying security on the accounts had been compromised. He told them their accounts had been hacked and were duped into giving their internet banking passwords over the phone. The trick enabled the criminals to steal £2.2million in minutes from one solicitors’ firm alone.
Using sophisticated software, the bank accounts were drained while his accomplices jammed the firm’s phone lines to stop them alerting their bank to the massive losses.
Stolen funds were moved to his bank account and then distributed across a number of accounts.
The cash was moved through transfer exchanges from London to Pakistan and elsewhere.
Legitimate bank phone numbers provided by corrupt bank staff were used to confuse victims
The gang used sophisticated methods including the use of ‘burner’ mobile phones, ditched every 24 hours.
Scotland Yard believes at least 750 businesses were affected between January 2013 and October 2015, but there could be countless others. Choudhary targeted customers from Lloyds, Santander, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland.
One solicitors' firm in Liverpool was said to have lost more than £500,000 while another law firm in Anglesey lost £670,000. A company in Gloucestershire lost more than £2million in less than two and a half hours.
When the racket was finally smashed, Choudhary fled to France where he was arrested using a false passport trying to board a plane to Pakistan.
Nearly £70million was laundered through bureaux de change in London and sent to Dubai and Pakistan. Only £47million has been recovered.
Jailing him, Judge Peter Testar said the scam was allowing cash to flow like ‘coins from a fruit machine’. He added: ‘This was a complex, clever, persistent and pitiless fraud. The damage to the people running these businesses was potentially devastating.
A couple who run a farm in the Scottish Borders were conned out of more than £10,000 just weeks after they started using telephone and internet banking.
The farmer's wife, who asked not to be named, told the Edinburgh Evening News: 'I believed entirely that I was speaking to legitimate bank staff. They knew who we banked with and their local knowledge took us in completely.
'We no longer trust people and are reluctant to speak on the phone. It's been a very lonely experience and we feel bitter.'
The Judge called the gang 'clever, persistent and pitiless' and described Choudhary as a 'very strong personality' who is 'persuasive and authoritative to the point of bullying'.
Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Gould, who led the investigation, said: ‘It is the biggest fraud of this kind we have seen in the country.
Emma Daramola, 23, was given a two-year suspended sentence for conspiracy to commit fraud by abuse of position for her role as an insider at Lloyds. Her sister, Amy Daramola, 24, received the same sentence
For money laundering and conspiracy to launder money, most of the gang were jailed, including:-
· His brother Nouman, 22 – the gang’s accountant – was given three-and-a-half years.
· Abdul Iqbal, 23, of Edinburgh, was sentenced to 21 months
· Syed Ali Amish, 24, of Luton, was sentenced to 32 months
· Bilal Ahmed, 27, from Ilford, and Bushra Shabab, 30, from Slough. They were sentenced to three years and four months, and two years in prison respectively.
· Naveen Devalapally from London was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison.
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