14 May 2006

Loyalist loan plot revealed


Warning after terrorists steal IDs to swindle thousands through phone calls to finance firms

Henry McDonald, Ireland Editor
Sunday May 14, 2006
The Observer

Consumers across the UK have been warned this weekend about a phone-a-loan scam that has left victims of identity theft with debts of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Loyalist terrorists in Northern Ireland have been stealing the identities of people with good credit ratings, then, using their victims' names and addresses, apply to finance companies who lend five-figure sums over the phone. When told cheques are being sent by special couriers, the crooks intercept them outside their victims' homes and sign for the money.

Last night the Trading Standards Service described the fraud as 'sophisticated' and advised any victims caught up in the scam to contact them.

The fraudsters have used false identification, such as driving licences in their victims' names, to cash the cheques before the scam is discovered. The ruthless Larne-based gang have also used vulnerable neighbours, such as young single mothers, as their impostors. The women and others involved were paid a fraction of the money earned in the highly lucrative scheme.

A senior officer in the Police Service of Northern Ireland said yesterday the scam they had discovered was in all likelihood being replicated across the UK. 'These people are very good at forging identity documents. They have been doing it for years during the Troubles. Don't be surprised if they are helping out other criminals across the Irish Sea involved in similar scams,' he said.

Details of the fraud emerged last week when one of women used by the gang appeared in a Northern Ireland court. Marlene Wylie, an unemployed single mother, appeared at Downpatrick Crown Court. The 28-year-old from Ballyclare, Co Antrim, admitted carrying out a phone-a-loan scam on AA Financial Services, which is part of the Halifax Bank of Scotland group.

She said she had applied for a £10,000 loan in the name of a Larne woman, Ruth Wilson, on 21 February 2003 and received a cheque three days later. Hours after receiving it, she had taken it to a cheque cashing centre in Newtonards, the court was told.

Wylie used a forged a driving licence bearing the name of her victim, but with her own photograph for identification, the court heard.

The prosecution also said Wylie had had to pay a £600 handling charge before subsequently receiving £9,400 in two cash payments over two days. When the finance company realised the loan application was fraudulent they stopped the cheque, but it was too late.

Wylie claimed she had been forced into what she did by an unnamed person in Larne. The prosecution accepted that most of the stolen money would have gone to others and Wylie would have only got between £500 and £1,000. Her lawyer described her as a 'vulnerable young woman' who had been used by 'sinister' people.

While the judge accepted that she had been involved in a 'sophisticated fraud', he said he would take an exceptional view of the case and gave Wylie an 18-month sentence suspended for three years.

Commenting after the case this week, the Trading Standards Service said the fraud was 'designed to evade all the safeguards put in place by the finance and cheque cashing companies'.

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