A fraud family that netted more than £10million is horrible proof that you can’t be too careful with online payments.
The gang sent emails with attachments which, when opened, allowed them to steal passwords.
They then sifted through messages to find ones from businesses and friends or family discussing payments.
The final step was to send their own spoof messages that appeared to come from the genuine intended recipient asking for the money to be paid into a different bank account, which is why the scam is known as diversion fraud.
Among the victims was a small builder’s firm from South West England that lost £13,000 and had to shut down as a result.
Much of the stolen money was laundered by buying baby milk which was then sold in Nigeria.
Detectives uncovered 165 bank accounts used by the crooks, sometimes set up with fake details, and other times by people prepared to act as money mules.
Now 11 of the gang are facing jail following a six-month trial at Blackfriars Crown Çourt, South London, and will be sentenced at a date yet to be set. A total of 228 frauds were discovered and 69 victims gave evidence.
One of the key figures was Andrew Chukwu, who lived in a £860,000 house in Essex despite having a business with an annual turnover of less than £17,000.
When raided by detectives, his wife Grace, whose only legitimate income came from a salary as an NHS nurse, was found to have a shoe collection “to rival Imelda Marcos”, wife of the former dictator of the Philippines. The couple also struggled to explain how they could pay for their three children to be privately educated.
His co-defendants, Emmanuel, Christian and Bonaventure, who spelt their surname Chukwuka, are his brothers.
Detective Constable Chris Collins, of the Metropolitan Police’s Falcon Fraud Squad, said: “They have shown themselves to be unscrupulous fraudsters who have not given a second thought to the misery their actions have inflicted.
“I hope this conviction sends a strong message to online fraudsters: even though you think you are committing fraud at your keyboard in privacy, we have the ways and means of tracing you and we will seek to bring you to justice.”
He advised anyone carrying out business by email to verify bank accounts by contacting the intended recipient before transferring money.
Frauds like this work when banks only check the account number and sort code when processing payments and don’t check that the name is genuine.
This makes it possible for crooks to set up spoof accounts in the names of real businesses or individuals.
The Payment Systems Regulator, part of the Financial Conduct Authority, is currently wading through banking industry responses to its consultation on introducing a “Confirmation of Payee” safeguard.
“We are currently working through the responses to our consultation on the implementation of Confirmation of Payee and so no decisions on timing have been made,” said a spokesperson.
“We are taking into account the feedback provided by industry, and the technical complexities to be addressed, so further work will be carried out to ensure this important tool is delivered as soon as possible.
“The PSR still wants to see Confirmation of Payee brought in as soon as possible and also make sure that when it is introduced, it is an effective way to stop this crime taking place.”
The gang members facing sentencing are:
Bonaventure Sunday Chukwuka, 41, Loughton, Essex, found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and money laundering.
Emmanuel Chike Chukwuka, 27, Loughton, found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.
Queen Chukwuka, 32, Loughton, found guilty of possessing criminal property.
Christian Chukwuka, 39, Basildon, Essex, found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and money laundering.
Mansoor Zaman, 27, no fixed abode, found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and money laundering.
Andrew Chike Chukwu, 35, Buckhurst Hill, Essex, found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and money laundering.
Grace Plange Chukwu, 39, Buckhurst Hill, found guilty of possessing criminal property.
Mohammed Rahman, 31, Peckham, London, found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and money laundering.
Nadeem Abbasi, 48, Wembley, London, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to money launder.
Ionut Relu Muresan, 34, East London, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering.
Gheorghe Alexandru Scurtu, 20, East London, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering.