The gang defrauded people by offering non-existent cars and motor homes for sale on eBay and Gumtree to victims for around £200/£300 less than the going rate.
Victims were duped into believing a story that a woman called Lucy had broken up with her boyfriend and had to sell quickly. After buyers transferred money, the funds were withdrawn out of the accounts by the gang and communication cut.
Police believe the gang are a part of a larger organised crime group dubbed the “Lucy network” because the scammers use the girl’s name in emails to potential victims.
The gang were opening bank accounts across London daily by flying Eastern Europeans into the UK. The gang’s ringleader would collect “cash mules” from Luton airport and drive them around banks across London where a co-conspirator would act as translator to open the accounts.
Retired couple lost £4,500
One retired couple from Bognor Regis told the Standard that they used £4,500 of their retirement savings to purchase a camper van online, believing that they were protected by PayPal. When the vehicle did not arrive and they could not contact the “seller”, they realised they had been defrauded. PayPal terms and conditions state that buyer protection does not cover motorised vehicles of any kind.
In total 130 victims lost £450,000 in fake transactions from June 2014 to September 2015. Reports to Action Fraud resulted in an investigation by the London Regional Fraud Team, consisting of officers from the City of London Police, British Transport Police and the Metropolitan Police, and assisted by the National Crime Agency.
In the last year there were 45,000 reports of online auction fraud, with more than 6,300 reports made by victims in the London area online.
The gang of four men and a woman all pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to money laundering charges and were jailed for a total of 18 years.
Fraud on an industrial scale
Detective Inspector Matt Mountford the head of the City of London Police’s London Regional Fraud Team, said: “This criminal gang committed online auction fraud on an industrial scale and then used fake identities and money mules shipped in from abroad to launder hundreds of thousands of pounds they had stolen from hundreds of innocent people.
“The fact this sophisticated, highly professional fraud has been unravelled and the architects brought to justice is thanks to a forensic investigation by the London Regional Fraud Team, which continues to disrupt organised criminality impacting the London region.”
City of London Police Commander Chris Greany, who is the Police National Coordinator for Economic Crime, added: “This operation shows how close collaboration between the Metropolitan Police, British Transport Police and the City of London Police, with specialist support from the National Crime Agency, can tackle organised crime groups that are targeting victims across the UK.”
Please note that Action Fraud is not responsible for the content of external websites.
To report a fraud and receive a police crime reference number, call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use our online fraud reporting tool.