When you think of a fraudster looking to establish a financial presence, you might think of a shady character with “contacts” and someone who knows the right (well, wrong) people. A shady character who, for a decent amount of money, might be able to source you some fraudulent documents and perhaps (if you pay enough) a counterfeit passport. Well what happens if you don’t have that devious acquaintance and you need counterfeit documentation to bypass basic KYC (Know Your Customer) checks? Then you simply apply the same skills you would for anything in life…just Google it.
Utility bills are the steadfast cornerstone of basic KYC documentation, but how easy are they to fake? Using Google.co.uk, I simply searched “fake household bills”. The first hit was a UK aimed website that could produce “novelty” utility bills from all the main UK utility companies. You simply select the utility provider you require, then you are presented with an order form enabling you to specify all of the details you want on the bill (such as name, address, customer number and so on). These novelty bills cost a very reasonable £50 each!
The site does display a hefty disclaimer with the first line being “Providing incorrect or inaccurate information for the purpose of misleading others is committing fraud”. However it runs no checks on document purchasers and as long as you are willing to pay the prices, you can order what you want. This places the onus on the document purchaser not to use the documentation fraudulently.
Bank Statements, Payslips & Inland Revenue Documentation
Along with novelty utility bills, the same website can also provide novelty bank statements from all the main UK banking institutions for less than £50 each. Not only that: you can specify the date range of transactions, the account number, balances and overdraft limits. Furthermore, you can order and specify novelty payslips and – most worryingly of all – “replacement” HMRC (UK tax office) documents such as P45s, P60s and self-assessment forms, all of which are customisable with realistic looking samples. This is essentially a fraudster’s toolkit and provides all the information needed to apply for a mortgage, let alone a simple store card.
Perhaps the ironic cherry on the cake is how the website makes a great effort to stress how reliable and trustworthy the site is, stressing its high “TrustPilot” (third party website reviews) score.
How is this legal?
Perhaps the first question one asks is how is this service legal? Websites that supply “novelty” documents are very keen to stress that they are simply providing a service to replace lost documentation and all information provided by the requestor must be correct and truthful. They also stress that the documents are for novelty and educational use only.
However, the judge at Leeds Crown Court in September 2014 did not see it this way, after a Scotland Yard officer with the fake pseudonym “Simon Lonsdale” ordered documents via a replica documents website, even stressing to the website owner that he wanted to make a loan application using the replica payslips. The judge sentenced the website owner to “two charges of fraud, possessing articles for the use in fraud and making articles for use in fraud”. He was given a twelve month prison sentence suspended for two years with 200 hours unpaid work.
So we have seen how you can order every replica document you could ever need with a couple of clicks and a swipe, but what happens if you Google “fake passport UK”?
Well sure enough the first few hits are websites selling “novelty” and “replica” documents, with the range of documents on offer including:
- ID cards
- Driving licences
Whilst I am pretty sure these documents would struggle to get you through even the most lax border crossing (the BBC reported last year that fake passports seizures at UK borders are at a five-year high), what is disturbing is how these could be a key tool in a fraudsters toolkit, reinforced by novelty utility bills and “replacement” P45s. Even if banks have a compliance system in place to verify passports, it is difficult for banks to cover all global passports and all it takes is for one bank to have slightly lax checking procedures for the floodgates to open to fraudsters.
A good example of this was reported by the Guardian in 2014 when Barclays Bank was“accused by victims of fraud of loose security procedures which have enabled international crooks to open accounts with foreign passports and then use them to fleece individuals online”.
The article then describes how “fraudsters from around the world are heading to the UK to open Barclays current accounts using foreign passports as ID. Other banks, such as Lloyds and Halifax, operate a list of countries – mostly EU and other developed countries – whose passports they accept, but which excludes many east European, African and Asian countries.”
However, Barclays “vigorously rejects the claims” and pointed out that:
“It requires account openers to show proof of residence in the UK, such as a recent gas, water or telephone bill. But the campaigners allege that these are relatively easy to forge.”
The above statement reinforces the misuse of “novelty” utility bills, particularly when it is difficult to validate passports from particular countries.
Please note that the above was reported in 2014 and Barclays denied the claims and stated that all its ID requirements met the relevant money laundering rules.
How Proximal Consulting Can Help
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