by Elsa McLaren and agencies
One of the world's most successful identity theft gangs who defrauded bank account holders in Britain, America and several European countries out of millions of pounds are behind bars today. The gang created hundreds of false identities and used huge numbers of cloned credit cards to buy electrical goods, which were later sold on the website eBay.
Police believe the lucrative international operation could have been running for 10 years and generated millions of pounds for the members.
Anton Dolgov, a former boss of the Moscow City Bank, was at the heart of the operation and ran offices in north Kensington and Spain. He was known under a number of aliases including Anton Gelonkin, the name he appeared under at London's Harrow Crown Court.
A police investigation was prompted after Spanish authorities arrested gang member Andreas Fuhrmann, who is currently awaiting trial in Spain. An international arrest warrant was issued for Anthony Peyton, one of Gelonkin's aliases.
Gelonkin was tracked down by police after he reported a break-in at his headquarters at BusPace Studios. After a police check the Interpol warrant issued for his arrest was flagged up.
Officers from the Serious and Organised Crime unit raided the gang's premises where they discovered a huge amount of evidence.
However, much of it was lost when gang member Aleksei Kostap, while handcuffed, managed to leap off a sofa to flick a power switch on the ceiling which wiped the computer databases and triggered layers of encryption. Despite efforts of police IT experts, the system has proved impregnable and its secrets will probably remain beyond reach for ever.
Kostap, 31, an Estonian national, denied his involvement in the scam and instead said that he had been framed by Gelonkin.
But, today he was found guilty of conspiracies to defraud, obtain services by deception, acquire, use and possess criminal property, and conceal, disguise, convert, transfer or remove criminal property. He was also found guilty of perverting the course of justice by shutting down the power to the PCs.
He is due to be sentenced on December 13, along with Gelonkin, 42, who admitted four charges of conspiracy and Romanos Vasilauskas, 24, who pleaded guilty to possessing three false passports.
David Hewett, for the prosecution, told the court that, while the fraud was thought to have lasted up to a decade, the charges covered just an 18-month period between June 2003 and January last year when the gang was arrested. During that time the gang managed to pocket at least 750,000 pounds.
"However, it is quite clear the total amount of money defrauded will probably never be known," he explained.
The operation's ultimate mastermind is thought to have been a shady underworld figure called Kaljusaar, who has never been caught.
Police discovered bogus passports, council tax documents, electoral registration applications, and bank statements as well as employment references from both an unsuspecting firm of solicitors and a fake one that were used to create false identities.
Cloned credit cards were used to buy cameras, computers, iPods, computer games, Royal Mint coin collection sets and other goods such as Liverpool FC strips from a variety of website traders. These items were then auctioned on eBay.
The gang also used stolen credit card details to set up online gambling accounts and directed the winnings into bank accounts they had created in false names.
They also used the compromised credit cards to make thousands of small payments to WorldPay and PayPal accounts which they later banked.
Copyright 2006 Reuters.
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