Fraudsters jailed over Vodafone scam

THREE men have been jailed over a “sophisticated” scam to defraud mobile phone firm Vodafone out of £165,000.

Andrew Harrison, Carl Westmoreland and Stephen Garbutt were sentenced at Leeds Crown Court over the plot which involved tricking Vodafone customers into handing over personal details and passwords to their mobile accounts.

Jonathan Sharp, prosecuting, said the fraudsters used these details to order “high value” handsets from Vodafone, before intercepting the phones on delivery to customers’ homes and selling on them in the middle east.

He said 37 customers’ accounts were illegally accessed and used to order 327 handsets worth £138,800. The stolen handsets then racked up £26,166 of air time.

All three men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud, Mr Sharp said Harrison, of The Drive, Kippax was the “captain of the ship” and Westmoreland, of North Avenue, Castleford was his “willing lieutenant.”

Harrison, 45, was jailed for 28 months, Westmoreland, 35, received a 20-month sentence and Garbutt, 51, of Wesley Street, Beeston, described as the “office-based assistant”, was jailed for ten months.

The gang ran the operation from an office on Bridge Road, in Beeston, Leeds, which was raided by the West Yorkshire Police’s economic crime team after Harrison and Westmoreland were caught “red-handed” intercepting a handset delivery in February 2011.

The court heard the men got hold of the phones by loitering outside customers; homes and intercepting delivery by pretending to be the genuine customers.

Members of the public were also unwittingly involved in the conspiracy after they allowed their homes to be used to take delivery of stolen phones in exchange for small amounts of cash.

Jailing the defendants at the hearing on Wednesday October 3, Judge Peter Hunt said: “The conspiracy involved careful planning.

“There was a high degree of professionalism and significant expenditure of time, and perhaps worst of all, the fraudulent use of identities of a large group of people.”

Stephen Crossley, for Harrison, said it was accepted his client was the “principal player” in the fraud.

Jason McAdam, for Garbutt, said he took part in the conspiracy for just £500 as he was facing bankruptcy after being released from prison.

After the hearing, Det Con Melanie Lewis, who led the investigation said: “This in-depth investigation revealed a sophisticated fraud with Harrison clearly at the heart of it.

“These fraudsters ran up bulls of thousands of pounds, in the names of those customers whose accounts were accessed, by ordering high value mobile handsets.

“The handsets were used by the fraudsters themselves by using airtime without any regard for anyone who would ultimately have to pay the bill.”