South Shields banking scam gang cost 'savers and businesses millions'

Ravideep Singh, Mohammed Ali and Alfas Miah were sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court.
Ravideep Singh, Mohammed Ali and Alfas Miah were sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court.

A gang who laundered cash from a multi-million pound telephone banking scam have been given prison sentences.

A group of fraudsters, some of whom are from South Shields, used actors' voices and fake dialling tones to convince bank customers to hand over account security details over the phone then drained all of the cash they could.

Newcastle Crown Court heard a company in Aberdeen lost £1.5m from its business account and another firm in Northern Ireland lost £1.47m through the fraud.

More than £700,000 was taken from an account belonging to the Institute of Animal Health in the scam.

Personal banking customers also lost thousands of pounds, often their entire life savings.

A judge said the scale of the sophisticated, nationwide fraud was "breathtaking" and duped vulnerable pensioners as well as senior officials within international firms.

The court heard criminals used personal data obtained from unknown sources to contact bank customers about fraudulent activity on their accounts.

The caller would convince the customer they were a genuine bank official by telling the account holder to hang up and call back, but kept the line open and never ended the original connection.

Judge Tim Gittins said: "In a sophisticated fashion, that is unusual, they used multiple actors and fake dialing tones to convince them they were being transferred through various departments before persuading them it was safe to depart further security information and allow illicit withdrawals."

Judge Gittins said the scam caused "misery and heartache" to the victims.

The judge added: "It wasn't just vulnerable, older victims targeted and manipulated but financially literate senior officers within international companies."

The court heard once the criminals had access to the victims' accounts, cash would be moved out at high speed and then processed through various "mule" accounts to try and hide it from the authorities.

Four men, who prosecutors accept were low down in the criminal chain of command and were not directly involved in the phone calls or frauds, have now been given jail sentences for laundering money made from the scam.

Mohammed Ali, 24, of Hatfield Square, South Shields, was found guilty by a jury of allowing almost £240,000 of the stolen money to pass through his accounts. He has been jailed for 18 months.

The court heard his involvement in the scam was "totally out of character" and he has led and otherwise positive life.

Alfas Miah, 26, of Anderson Street, South Shields, admitted allowing £160,000 of stolen cash to go through his bank. He was jailed for 13 months.

The court heard the former waiter was drawn into the illegal scheme through the promise of "easy money" and has made significant, positive life changes since his involvement.

Former HMRC worker Asif Amin, 24, of Ebor Street, South Shields, was convicted by a jury of allowing around £4,000 to go through his bank and was given a five month prison term, suspended for 12 months, with a nine month night time curfew.

He continues to deny any fraudulent activity and has never been in trouble before.

Ravideep Singh, 30, of Westmarcroft Drive, Middlesex, was convicted by jurors of involvement with much smaller sums of cash, between £20,000 and £25,000, but prosecutors said he was "higher up the chain". He was locked up for eight months.

He now accepts his involvement in the scam but has been in no trouble since and has a wife and two children.

Judge Gittins said the scam was a "professionally planned, high value phishing fraud" and that the men who laundered the money were "vital cogs" in the illegal scheme.

The judge told the four men: "This sort of offending that you engaged in allows those higher up the chain to remain remote from the sums being withdrawn.

"It allows them to plunder people's bank accounts in the same way that burglars engage in their operations only because there are people prepared to assist them in disposal of the goods by handling them."

The court heard the offences took place between December 2012 and June 2015 and all four men, who were younger and more naive, have stayed out of trouble since.