By Ashley Young-
Over £6.2 million in assets was also seized or restrained in an orchestrated deployment of police forces and intelligence
The NCA’s National Economic Crime Centre led a successful operation working closely with City of London Police and other policing partners against suspected fraudsters across the UK.
The month-long activity, which resulted in 290 arrests by police forces, ROCUs and the NCA, included high-value seizures, such as a BMW M5 Competition worth £96,000, and multiple luxury items including Rolex watches and jewellery.
As part of the action, the NCA targeted high harm offenders, making ten arrests across four ongoing investigations.
On 8 February three people including a husband and wife were arrested in an NCA investigation linked to international PPE fraud, where one of the group was suspected of setting up a UK company to run a fraudulent scheme that would allow him to profit from PPE shortages during the coronavirus pandemic. Officers carried out searches at two properties in Loughborough and one in Lytham St Annes, where they made the arrests and found evidence of high value purchases including a Porsche, an Audi and high-end watches.
The NCA’s Complex Financial Crime Team carried out additional arrests across the month in separate investigations linked to suspected fraud enablers, money laundering and potential property investment fraud.
On 23 February officers arrested five people across the North West and London suspected of being part of a scheme where would-be investors were approached to purchase apartments off-plan with offers of high guaranteed rental income. The projects were never completed resulting in up to 100 investors losing nearly £8 million.
Two men suspected of fraudulently opening bank accounts that could be used to launder the proceeds of serious and organised crime were also arrested in North London, with one of the suspects charged and remanded until a hearing in April.
Significant operational activity was led by policing, including Devon & Cornwall Police and the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit (SWROCU), which seized over 250 smartphones at an address in Stockport . The phones contained details of more than 2,500 bank accounts suspected of being used to launder criminal cash.
Two men were arrested for fraud and money laundering offences and the accounts were later closed. Several million pounds is understood to have been laundered through the accounts in the last 12 months alone
On 21 February, South Yorkshire Police, supported by the NCA, made six arrests across Rotherham, Doncaster and Hampshire, as part of ongoing action to disrupt a major online-enabled fraud operation which saw hundreds of victims targeted across the UK. The fraud involved vehicles being listed for sale on Ebay that did not exist.
Victims were tricked into paying a deposit to secure a viewing and directed to an address where the occupant had no knowledge of the sale or vehicle. Officers also seized approx. £175,000 in cash, three high value watches and £50,000 worth of Royal Crown Derby pottery during searches. Two people were also arrested in relation to child neglect and four children were safeguarded.
West Midlands Police focused part of their action on money mules – who are people who allow their bank accounts to be used for cash deposits without asking any questions – and identified more than 100 suspects across the region. All were issued with cease and desist notices.
Adrian Searle, Director of the National Economic Crime Centre (NECC) in the NCA, said: “Fraud accounts for more than 40% of all reported crime. Henhouse is a good example of what can be achieved when the NCA and partners in policing and wider law enforcement come together to target the fraudsters.”
Nik Adams, Commander at City of London Police, said: “Operation Henhouse was the culmination of months of hard work. As the national lead police force for fraud, we coordinated policing activity by working with regional forces and specialist economic crime units, which was then replicated across other partners under the leadership of the NECC and NCA.
“It’s through activity like Operation Henhouse, as well as ongoing collaboration with other law enforcement agencies and the private sector, that we are able to make significant inroads into tackling organised crime activity and protect the public from the scourge of fraud. We will look to build on the success of Operation Henhouse over the next 12 months, so momentum in disrupting fraudulent activity continues. ”
Security Minister Tom Tugendhat said: “Fraud is a blight on communities up and down the country. This government is determined to crack down on those who line their pockets at the expense of our friends and neighbours.
“We will continue to step up our efforts to punish fraudsters, strip them of their profits and invest them back into operations such as HENHOUSE that protect the public from their crimes.”
The public can take steps to help protect themselves against fraud. Be sure to protect your online accounts from compromise by criminals:
Use 3 random words to create a strong password for your email that’s different to all your other passwords, to prevent criminals accessing your personal information.
Always use 2-step verification where possible to protect your email and most important accounts.
Use your browser’s password manager to safely store passwords.
Criminals may pretend to be a trusted person or company. If something seems suspicious or unexpected, such as requests for money or personal information, contact the organisation directly to check. Use contact details from their official website, not those given in a message, email or phone call.