Six individuals have been sentenced to more than 35 years' imprisonment, after they were convicted of defrauding UK consumers of over £37 million by operating fraudulent "copycat" websites. The prosecution followed an investigation by the National Trading Standards eCrime Team.
These websites, which were active between January 2011 and November 2014, offered legitimate government services at vastly inflated prices. Examples include the sale of passports, driving licences, visas, birth and death certificates. The defendants were able to manipulate website search engines to appear more genuine. In addition, the defendants created fraudulent websites that resembled official visa sites, and it sold electronic visas at significantly inflated prices.
The profits were used by the defendants to fund a lavish lifestyle, including spending the money on luxury cars and holidays.
The convictions and sentences were handed down following two trials. In handing down his sentences Judge Morris made the following comment:
"The internet is now the most frequently used marketplace. It is full of busy people in a rush who don't have time. It's a tool used by everyone for buying train tickets, holidays, cars, visas and it involves millions of mouse clicks a day. There is a lot of money to be made by dishonest people out of the honest people who don't have time to check that a site is an official government service. Those who deceive in this way should expect to go to prison for a long time".