Two Indian-origin men are among six people jailed over a multi-million-pound cyber racket that involved the design, production and sale of fake identities and the management of online forums where clients were coached on how to commit fraud.
The six sentenced on Friday at the Southwark Crown Court for a catalogue of fraud offences include Jaipal Singh, 31, who is a director of a telecom company based in the West Midlands, and student Arun Thear, 22, also based in the West Midlands.
All six had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing.
Besides Singh and Thear, the other four are Jason Place, 42, Mark Powell-Richards, 59, Allen Stringer, 57, and Michael Daly, 68.
Jaipal Singh was sentenced to 18 months for conspiracy to defraud, contrary to Common Law, while Arun Thear was sentenced to six months in jail, suspended for two years, and 150 hours unpaid community service for forgery, contrary to section 1 of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981.
Jason Place and Barry Sales ran operations from the comfort of their Spanish villas in Alicante while employees based at locations around the UK would monitor the website Confidential Access and work on producing various documents, including false bank statements, wage slips, driving licences and utility bills.
The Metropolitan Police said that documents were billed as novelty items for the purposes of impressing friends.
However, the police investigation that lasted nearly two and a half years revealed a "well-practised production line of very authentic documents for the purpose of committing fraud."
"Many were bundled together and sold as full credit profiles which included wage slips, credit history print outs and a postal address, making it possible for the customers to defraud companies of thousands of pounds," a police statement said.
One of the top end products sold by the six was called the Platinum Profile, which cost 5,500 pounds and came complete with instructions on how to commit identity fraud.
They also had a Profile called the 100 per cent Creditmaster profile which was exclusive to VIP members of the website. This would usually cost 2,000 pounds.
However, if the customer successfully committed fraud with the Creditmaster profile, Confidential Access would ask for 50 per cent of the customer's first fraud or threaten to
wreck the credit profile.
Web chat forums were a key part of the fraud providing clients with information, advice and coaching them on how to use the profiles and commit fraud.
Some of the forums were free but others came at a cost, the police said.
A monthly subscription fee bought members access to forums where they could discuss how to use the identity documents to commit fraud and seek other tips and advice. Access to the forums was graded and some were only open to those members who had spent a specific amount of money and had gained a specific level of trust.
The top-tier member was classed as a VIP member and had access to a forum called 'The Black Marketplace'.
This is where serious incriminating topics were discussed and hidden from the general public and non-VIP members.
Nautical terms were used to distinguish the varying levels of trust within the forums.
All new paying members would begin as deckhands and as they gained trust would climb the rank ladder from Skylarker to Shore Patrol, up to the Ship's Surgeon who was in charge.
Painstaking analysis of servers which had been seized from Hong Kong led to a breakthrough by officers when they cracked the highly sophisticated encryption codes opening up a treasure trove of evidence.
Determined to continue, Confidential Access responded by setting up servers in Holland which were also later seized for analysis by the Metropolitan Police.
Of the 11,000 clients who used the company's services, some spent more than 20,000 pounds on false documentation during the course of their business with the company.
Some clients went on to commit fraud of their own which in some cases totalled more than 1 million pounds.
Police spokesperson Tim Dowdeswell said, "This was a sophisticated operation which has netted millions of pounds over the years.
"These cyber criminals not only provided the tools to commit fraud, they (also) instructed their clients in how to use them to make the maximum amount of money, whilst ruining real people's credit histories into the bargain," he said.
He added, "We have already brought many of their students in crime to court and will continue to work with other police forces and partners to bring those people who bought and used these identities in their own frauds to justice."