A gang behind one of the UK’s biggest online frauds, which conned people out of £37 million by tricking them into using copycat websites, has been jailed.
It set up sites which mimicked official government services to sell passports, driving licences and visas at inflated prices, having paid Google to put its sites close to the top of certain searches.
Hundreds of thousands of people were fooled into thinking the sites were the official pages, as they used the same colour schemes and logos.
The scheme was run by convicted fraudster Peter Hall, 47, who carried on offending even when he was under investigation and flouted a court order which told him to stop.
The scheme was run by convicted fraudster Peter Hall, 47 (left). His partner, Claire Hall, 42 (right), made so much money she was preparing to buy a £1.4million house with cash when the authorities intervened
He and his partner Claire Hall, 42, of Medstead, Alton, Hampshire, made so much money she was preparing to buy a £1.4 million house with cash when the authorities intervened.
Peter Hall was convicted at Teesside Crown Court of conspiracy to defraud following a trial in July and a second, separate hearing which finished on Tuesday. He will serve a total of 15 years in jail, Trading Standards said.
Sentencing, Judge Sean Morris said: ‘There is a lot of money to be made by dishonest people out of the honest people who don’t have time to check that a site is an official government service.
‘Those who deceive in this way should expect to go to prison for a long time.’
Claire Hall wept last July when she was jailed for four years following a trial.
Hundreds of thousands of people were fooled into thinking the sites were the official pages, as they used the same colour schemes and logos
At the time, Judge Morris said she had put her concern for her partner above their children.
Even after the police began investigating, she continued her involvement.
The judge said: ‘You carried on, knowing full well what was going on, and enjoying the lifestyle, driving around in fast cars, having expensive holidays costing tens of thousands of pounds and a house costing over £1 million.’
Sentencing, Judge Sean Morris said: ‘There is a lot of money to be made by dishonest people out of the honest people who don’t have time to check that a site is an official government service. Pictured: Teesside Crown Court
Also convicted in July with the Halls were:
- Web designer Syed Bilal Zaidi, 35, formerly of Broad Street, Alresford, Hampshire, who was jailed for six years in his absence and whose whereabouts are currently unknown.
- Collette Ferrow, 50, of Longmead, Liss, Hampshire, who was jailed for four years.
- Book-keeper Liam Hincks, 28, from St Albans Heights, Tanyfron, Wrexham, who pleaded guilty before the trial and was jailed for three years.
Following the second trial, Kerry Mills, 49, of Hillsborough Park, Camberley, Surrey, was jailed for five years.
Hincks will be sentenced for the second set of offences later.
The defendants in the first trial set up copycat websites through the company Tadservices Limited between January 2011 and November 2014 and misled people into paying too much for services including new or replacement passports, visas, birth and death certificates, driving licences, driving tests, car tax discs and the London Congestion Charge.
They also set up websites that mimicked the American, Turkish, Cambodian, Vietnamese and Sri Lankan official visa sites where travellers could apply and pay for electronic visas to visit those countries.
In all cases, the sites offered little or no additional value to consumers using them.
They were caught after a major investigation by the National Trading Standards eCrime team.
Speaking after the second trial, Lord Toby Harris, chairman of National Trading Standards, said: ‘These convictions represent an important milestone in the fight against online fraud.’
Mike Andrews, from the National Trading Standards eCrime Team, said people should look for gov.uk domain names when looking for official services.