Greater Manchester Police have foiled an organised crime group behind a £3m scam to defraud major retailers out of goods.
The scammers set up fake email addresses using the names of genuine employees at McDonalds and Greggs and were able to fraudulently obtain credit and millions of pounds worth of goods from a number of small businesses.
The gang would order goods and arrange for them to be delivered to addresses in Manchester and Cheshire, where the goods were collected but never paid for.
In total 13 companies had fallen victim to the scam which lost them around £3 million. Another 80 companies were also targeted but exercised caution and cancelled orders made by the fraudsters. If they succeeded a total of £20m would have been lost.
One small business named Celltec Limited lost £400,000 to the scam, went into liquidation and had to make 40 employees redundant. The three men responsible pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and were jailed at Manchester Crown Court.
Know your customers
Detective Chief Inspector Dave Pester, Senior Investigating Officer, said: "One of the biggest problems facing the UK right now is this sort of impersonation or hijacking of corporate identities, which is costing the economy millions of pounds every year.
"This organised crime group successfully obtained £3m worth of goods, and if they had succeeded with every fraud would have pocketed just shy of £20m worth. That is a staggering amount and if you consider this sort of scam could be happening across the UK, the cost to the economy is eye-watering. Not only that but it feeds the black market which puts genuine retailers out of business as these goods find their way into peoples homes.
"This gang went to meticulous lengths to research genuine employees of blue-chip firms and present a veneer of respectability. Using extremely plausible scenarios, they fooled a number of companies who had no reason to suspect the orders were anything other than legitimate.
"Sadly, some of the companies who were scammed did not do enough research once the fraudulent orders were placed and were taken in by the promise of a big pay day thinking they were dealing with such blue-chip companies. We would therefore urge any businesses who receive such orders to know your customers. In times of austerity, you cannot afford to fall victim to this sort of scam so please, do your research before you commit to anything.
Small businesses lose £18.9 billion to fraud in 2012
Fraud affects 1 in 4 small businesses every year and in 2012 alone there was an estimated loss of around £18.9 billion to fraud. Action Fraud has devised a tool kit to enable small business to protect themselves from fraud.
Read more about the fraud on the Greater Manchester Police website.
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If you are a victim of fraud you can call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use our online fraud reporting tool.