South Shields computer conman jailed after £400,000 online scam
A conman has become the first person nationwide to be jailed after making thousands of pounds through computer software fraud.
Baljinder Singh, 39, from Marshall Wallace Road, South Shields, was involved in a scam whereby unsuspecting owners are cold called by bogus IT engineers telling them that they have been hacked.
Victims were then told that the fraudsters worked for tech-giant Microsoft and that they could resolve the issue for a £70 fee.
Instead of fixing any problem, however, they would install malicious software on computers that would allow them to steal even more money from accounts.
Singh was arrested in June 2017 following a joint investigation between the North East Special Operations Unit (NERSOU) and the City of London Police and was jailed on Monday for 28 months. Inquiries found that the fraudsters were based in the Delhi region of India and that they were asking victims to transfer money to a UK-based bank account.The City of London Police identified Singh as the owner of the account and detectives from NERSOU later found he was transferring the cash back to Delhi while taking a cut for himself.Singh, who operated through a company called Devine Technical Services, was arrested at his home and questioned by specialist fraud investigators.He was charged with money laundering and became only the third person to be convicted in relation to computer software fraud when he entered a guilty plea at court in December.Prosecutors revealed during the Newcastle Crown Court case that Singh had helped steal £400,000 from victims and is thought to have pocketed tens of thousands of pounds for himself.Following the case, Detective Constable Andrew Smith, of NERSOU’s cyber crime team, said he was "delighted" to secure a conviction as part of an investigation dubbed Operation Thistle.He said: "These are very complex investigations and that is why there have only ever been three convictions of computer software fraud in the UK."It is an international operation and Baljinder Singh was one cog in the machine that committed frauds to the tune of millions of pounds."He acted as the money man and used his accounts to pass the proceeds of the fraud back to these conmen based overseas."Thanks to the hard work of our detectives and officers at the City of London Police, he has been brought before the court and convicted."It is worth noting that this investigation was greatly helped by the co-operation of Microsoft and their commitment to securing justice for victims of crime."We hope that we can continue to work in partnership with the tech-industry to protect customers and put predatory fraudsters behind bars."
Abrahim Bakhtiar, senior attorney at Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit (DCU), said: "This is a great result for people who have been targeted by or fallen victim to these criminals. "We work closely with law enforcement both here in the UK and internationally to tackle this kind of fraud and we have recently expanded our cyber security programme to further safeguard our customers. "We’d like to reassure all users of our products that Microsoft will never cold call you out of the blue. "If you receive an unsolicited tech support call or pop up from anyone claiming to be from Microsoft or representing Microsoft then it is a scam."
Singh was jailed after admitting possession of criminal property with intent to money launder at Newcastle Crown Court on December 3.
Gavin Doig, defending Singh, told the court on Monday: "He didn't know from the outset that this operation was a fraudulent one but became suspicious during the period ofthe offending and continued. That is his crime."He was not involved in direct contact with any of the complainants, he didn't plan this."The defendant has been left holding the baby for others, who benefited hugely."He is still being hounded to pay corporation tax on Devine Technical Services."Hundreds of thousands of pounds left this country to go to India, to those actually making the calls."The defendant is the only person being prosecuted, he is the only person who owes money to the government for corporation tax."
A proceeds of crime case is also expected to take place to recover money pocketed by Singh.