The final member of criminal gang that exploited vulnerable teenage girls to commit ‘refund fraud’ was found guilty of trafficking, among other crimes, on 10 February.
The gang targeted girls, mainly aged between 14 and 17, who were living in foster care or supported living. They recruited the girls through social media or on the street, mostly from Greater London and Essex. The girls were pressured into joining the gang, before being taken to other places in the UK, including as far as Glasgow and Devon, to commit fraud. The group trained the girls to buy products with fake barcodes at a lower price and later return the product at full cost. The girls would go missing for days while being exploited by the gang.
Last year, two other members of the fraud enterprise, including its ringleader, pleaded guilty to trafficking (conspiracy to arrange or facilitate the travel of children for the purposes of exploitation), as well as other crimes, while a fourth pleaded guilty to money laundering (conspiracy to concealing/converting/transferring criminal property).
These convictions are believed to be the first time the Modern Slavery Act has been used in a fraud enterprise case in the UK.
The organised crime group used the addresses and bank accounts of adults with mental health problems or severe learning difficulties to hide their activities and to launder the money.
The Metropolitan Police Predatory Offender Unit became aware of the scheme after being alerted by social workers and reports from the retailers targeted by the gang.
Sergeant PJ Jones, from the Met’s Predatory Offender Unit that worked on the case, said the gang leaders “actively recruited girls with obvious vulnerabilities”, adding: “They embedded themselves through peer groups of vulnerable people using them to commit fraud and using their accounts to launder money.”
By Emily Gregg for Hope for Justice