Police are urging the public to make sure they check and double-check recipient account details before transferring money after a gang of money mules have been jailed for laundering £1.7m, which flowed through their accounts from victims of the so-called ‘mandate fraud’.
The gang’s criminal activity was uncovered after an investigation was launched in June 2013 by officers from the Met’s Criminal Finance Team that revealed suspicious activity in one of the group’s accounts, and which eventually led to police identifying several other accounts and individuals involved.
Police investigated and identified that a number of victims had received spoof emails from what they thought were legitimate companies or people that they trusted. Often, the victims were due to transfer or pay money to that company or person, but the fake emails contained the details of bank accounts controlled by the gang, who subsequently laundered the money.
Detective Sergeant Kevin Jackson of the Met’s Criminal Finance Team, who oversaw the investigation said:
“Members of the public and organisations need to be very careful when moving and transferring money. Many of the victims linked to this case were tricked into sending money to criminals’ accounts after they were sent a spoof email with change of payment details.
“Always verify changes to financial arrangements with the organisation or person directly on the phone, or go via the company’s main switchboard to check if an email is genuine.
“Trust your instincts and always check before transferring the money, because it will be extremely difficult to recover once you’ve sent it.”
Officers discovered that once money had been transferred in to an initial account, it was then quickly moved on through several other accounts controlled by members of the criminal network in a process called layering. The money was then finally withdrawn as large amounts of untraceable cash from branches or ATMs.
Further enquiries revealed that some of the bank accounts linked to the money laundering were set up in the name of sham companies. When they carried out further checks on the companies, officers found that they were not trading, were not paying tax and had not provided returns to HMRC that legitimately explained the huge volume of money flowing through the business bank accounts.
Financial checks into the individuals that controlled the accounts showed that some of them were claiming tax credits, housing benefits, income support or Jobseekers’ Allowance – totally at odds with somebody receiving tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds a year into their bank account.
In total, the network of five men and six women received over £1.7 million into their accounts between January 2011 and December 2013 and police identified 17 victims – a mixture of companies and individuals – including victims based in Sweden, Nigeria, Mauritius, France, Switzerland and the United States as well as UK-based victims.
Detective Sergeant Kevin Jackson added: “This was a sophisticated money laundering operation and the investigation was complex involving a large amount of financial evidence, which the court heard during a two month trial.
“I have no doubt that this group was aware the money coming into their accounts was tainted and related to criminal activity. Fraudsters cannot operate without having willing money launderers who are prepared to clean up the proceeds of their crimes.
“Whilst we did not directly link them to the initial fraud itself, they would have all been aware that the money they were receiving could have only come from illegal activity and the sentences today should serve as a warning to others that there are serious consequences if you get involved in laundering dirty money or acting as a money mule. For these individuals, there was no profit in crime.”
The following individuals were sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court on Friday, 3 March as follows:
[A] Babatunde Oguntoye, 33 (14.12.1983) of London Road, Northfleet, was found guilty of money laundering offences on 24 January and was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment.
[B] Olabisi Oguntoye, 29 (25.03.1988) of London Road, Northfleet, was found guilty of money laundering offences on 24 January and was sentenced to two years and six months’ imprisonment.
[C] Gowshigan Pathmanathan, 29 (15.09.1987) of Park Avenue, Luton, pleaded guilty to money laundering offences on 22 November 2016 and was sentenced to two years and four months’ imprisonment.
[D] Michael Oguntoye, 23 (09.10.1993) of Brangbourne Road, Bromley was found guilty of money laundering offences on 24 January and was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, and 200 hours community service.
[E] Ayekhemhe Ikioda, 24 (01.08.1992) of Hendon Way, London, NW4 was found guilty of money laundering offences on 24 January and was sentenced to 21 months’ imprisonment suspended for two years and 240 hours community service.
[F] Geovanessa Wedderburn, 24 (29.10.1992) of Battersby Road, London, SE6 was found guilty of money laundering offences on 24 January 2017 and was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, and 200 hours community service
[G] Chanel Hicks, 27 (13.03.1990) of Hervey Road, London, SE4, was found guilty of money laundering offences on 24 January and was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment suspended for two years and 240 hours community service
[H] Emma Pound, 29 (03.10.1987) of Lausanne Road, London, SE15 was found guilty of money laundering offences on 24 January and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, and 300 hours community service.
The defendants were also ordered to pay up to £5,040 each towards to the cost of prosecuting them.
In addition, the following three individuals were sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court:
[I] Natasha James, 35 (08.08.1981) of Christchurch Way, Greenwich pleaded guilty to money laundering offences on 7 April and was sentenced on 24 March to six months’ imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, given a 60-day curfew, and ordered to pay £230 in costs and victim surcharge.
[J] Dainius Zvirblis, 32 (08.10.1984) of Church Road, Hove, pleaded guilty to money laundering offences on 7 April and was sentenced on 24 March to 18 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 24 months, 200 hours of unpaid work and ordered to pay £250 in costs and victim surcharge.
[K] Nishma Bharadia, 29 (01.09.1987) of Taunton Way, Stanmore, was found guilty of money laundering offences on 26 May and was sentenced on 2 June to 14 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 24 months, a three month curfew, and ordered to pay £5,140 in costs and victim surcharge.
= For clarity, [A], [C], [D], [E] and [J] are all male. Defendants [B], [F], [G], [H], [I] and [K] are female.
What is Mandate Fraud?
Mandate fraud is when someone gets you to change a direct debit, standing order or bank transfer mandate, by purporting to be an organisation you make regular payments to, for example a subscription or membership organisation or your business supplier.
Notify your bank immediately if you see any unusual activity on your account or suspect mandate fraud has occurred.
For more advice and information on how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud, or what to do if you have been a victim, visit the Action Fraud website at www.actionfraud.police.uk