Police have shut down an alleged global criminal conspiracy involving stolen iPhones that is thought to have cost a mobile operator millions of pounds.
Eight men and one woman were arrested in raids across the UK on Wednesday on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud. City of London police, who led the investigation, said Sim cards from fraudulently acquired iPhones and other mobile devices were used to dial premium-rate international phone lines set up by a criminal gang, some costing up to £10 a minute.
Officers were called in after O2, a mobile operator, noticed customer phone lines running up “massive bills”, the City force said. It claimed £1.2m was stolen through the premium phone lines in July alone.
Detective Superintendent Bob Wishart said crime gangs were targeting the latest consumer technology.
Police said criminals used fake identities and counterfeit accounts to buy phones operating on the O2 network. They were then passed to a man the police think was the mastermind for the fraud, before the Sim cards were allegedly removed and used to call the premium lines.
UK operators are vulnerable to such scams because telecoms regulations in some countries mean they must pay the providers of a phone service before they receive money from their own customers. That meant the gang’s multimillion-pound phone bill from the premium-rate calls was paid, and only when O2 approached their “ghost customers” for payment was the fraud uncovered.
During the raids officers seized up to £15,000-worth of mobile phones. They were still in the boxes with the Sims removed, along with hundreds of Sim cards, thousands of pounds, computers and fake documents
The handsets were allegedly sent to criminal contacts overseas, where they can fetch up to £450 each as mobile phone companies are unable to block them.