Mobiles targeted in £2.8m fraud
A gang which hijacked mobile phones to defraud Vodafone customers of £2.8 million by making calls to premium rate numbers have been jailed.
The four men obtained customer details from data management firms and then linked mobile numbers to SIM cards in their possession by posing as legitimate account holders.
They then used the cards to repeatedly make calls to premium rate lines they had purchased, with connection charges of around £2.50 each time.
Around 1,500 accounts were hijacked, costing Vodafone in excess of £1 million.
One victim received a bill for £80,000 and thought she would have to sell her home to repay it, Blackfriars Crown Court in south London heard.
The gang was given a total of 11 years and five months in prison for conspiracy to defraud.
Kaleem Hussain, 30, from Maynard Road in Rotherham, was jailed for 38 months after pleading guilty for his role in the scam.
Nadeem Ali, 26, from Clifton Lane in Rotherham, got 21 months, Waseem Rashid, 26, also from Clifton Lane, got 30 months and Imran Rasab, 35, from Hooton Road in Mexborough, south Yorks, received a four year sentence for his role after being found guilty
Passing sentence, judge Henry Blacksell QC said their plot had the appearance of being "cavalier and sophisticated".
He said: "The billed losses to the respective customers amounted to some £2.8 million, but as anyone who understands the fraud knows, the losses suffered by the providers in this case amount to somewhere in excess of £1 million.
"Quite rightly, society is nervous and concerned about the way personal information, which is a necessary aspect of a lot of our modern living, is distributed and may be used by fraudsters.
"That is the category that you fall into.
"It is understandable that people are very sensitive about that and the courts must reflect it when people like you are brought before them.
"Huge amounts of personal details were secured and then misused for you and your co-conspirators' advantage.
"It isn't a victimless crime - it caused individual customers huge distress and concern at the bills that were being run up on their account."
The judge said the men had behaved in an "outrageous" way and shown no remorse for their wrongdoing.
Hussain, who was the only defendant who pleaded guilty before the case went to trial, played a "prominent part" and recruited the others, the court heard.
"I have absolutely no doubt that at this time you were completely out of control in the sense that you were pleasuring yourself through this fraud with the acquisition of fast cars and trips abroad," the judge said.
Addressing Rasab, the judge described him as "thoroughly dishonest" and a "major organiser" in the scam.
He added that he could not reduce the defendant's sentence because he had already served a prison sentence for assault occasioning ABH in 1997.
Rashid and Ali were said to have played a back up role and were involved in trips to Pakistan, France and Holland during which Hussain had hijacked phones.
Prosecutor Michael Brompton QC explained that the fraudsters had obtained the lists of mobile phone subscribers from marketing companies.
They would then call Vodafone customer services pretending to be the true subscriber and request the transfer of the account to a new SIM in their possession.
"Having thus obtained control of the account, they were able to make calls at the expense of the true subscriber," Mr Brompton said.
"In particular calls were made to premium rate lines, the use and benefit of which had been obtained by the fraudsters.
"Most calls were to foreign destinations and indeed some were made from abroad. The cost of the calls was charged to the true customer.
"In many cases the sum involved was no more than a few hundred pounds.
"But sometimes it was several thousands and occasionally far more than that.
"The receipt of the bill was usually the first the customer knew of the fact the hijack had taken place rather than an innocent interruption service.
"The most extreme example was that of Mrs Linda Priest, who was billed for some £80,000.
All four men smiled at their relatives in the public gallery when they were taken down.
Afterwards, the judge said he would be recommending lead officer Detective Constable Mark Wootton should be commended for his work.
Speaking outside court, Dc Wootton said that the offences were "definitely not victimless".
"Ultimately Vodafone have lost significant sums because of what they had to pay out," he said.
"But normal, everyday members of the public, me, you, have been targeted, they've had their personal details used, which is concerning for most people.
"Then they lost service with their mobile phones for a significant time and they received massive bills through the post, some of which were £80,000 to £90.000.
"The problem is that when they try to reconnect their line, they are sometimes not believed because the security settings have been changed by the offender and so there's not much that Vodafone or other companies can do to stop it from taking place.
"If you know all the answers to the questions, you can get into the house."