Jonathan Sandiford leading Denise Breen-Lawton and George Hazel-Owram successfully prosecute the largest ever internet fraud brought by National Trading Standards.
UK consumers were conned out of £37m by a group of fraudsters who sold passports and driving licenses, for inflated prices, through websites which imitated official government services. The group of six was led by Peter Hall, 47, and included his wife, Claire.
According to National Trading Standards, the websites were set up between January 2011 and November 2014 and mimicked services such as passport renewal, visa, birth or death certificates, driving licenses and tests, car tax discs and the London Congestion Charge. The sites also copied American, Turkish, Cambodian, Vietnamese and Sri Lankan official visa sites.
Mike Andrews, lead coordinator of the eCrime team at National Trading Standards, which investigated the fraud, said: “This was a crime motivated by greed. This group defrauded people so they could enjoy a luxury lifestyle.
“They showed no regard for the unnecessary costs they imposed on their victims – I would say they treated them with contempt.” Mr Andrews said: “I would urge people to always use the GOV.UK website when looking to apply for any kind of government service such as a passport, driving licence or EHIC card.”Search engines may seem the easiest route but searching using the GOV.UK website is the safest way of ensuring you do not fall victim to a copycat website.”
When the authorities intervened, Claire Hall was preparing to buy a house for £1.4m. She and Peter Hall were arrested on 27 June 2014. The National Trading Standards eCrime team and the police raided properties across Hampshire.
Peter Hall was sentenced to 15 years following two trials which took place in July 2017 and March 2018, deemed “a highly manipulative and controlling individual” by His Honour Judge Sean Morris, who also said “it was a determined, sophisticated long running fraud. He was a charming man but did not charm the jury.
“We live in a computer age, and crime is developing to meet that age. People live by their computers and need to know that the services they purchase online are genuine services.”
Claire Hall, 41, and Collette Ferrow, 50, were each sentenced to four years in prison. Syed Bilal Zaidi was sentenced to six years in prison in his absence with his whereabouts unknown. Liam Hincks pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years while Kerry Mills, 24, was sentenced to five years and disqualified as company director for eight years.