The Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit (DCPCU) in the UK has dismantled what is believes to be one of the UK’s biggest counterfeit cheque crime groups after completing a major operation in Yorkshire and Scotland.
The police administered unit used its own officers and police from the City of London and West Yorkshire Police forces to arrest five men and two women last week in Yorkshire, who have now been bailed pending trial. Around 100 chequebooks were seized, each containing up to 50 cheques, with the potential to yield in excess of £5 million worth of fraud.
Numerous printers and printing materials that could be used to forge cheques were seized, alongside a sizeable quantity of crack cocaine and heroin, across 22 premises that were raided as part of the investigation.
Detectives have been investigating the counterfeiting network for months and suspect they could have been making up to £50,000 a week using counterfeit cheques, potentially netting up to £10m in total. Cheque usage has gone down in recent years but there are still over 2.7 million cheque transactions a day in the UK and it is one of the easier frauds to run. Although the most recent figures show that cheque fraud is rising, perhaps as a consequence of the economic downturn, more than 90% of all fraudulent cheques are detected as they go through the cheque clearing process.
Organised crime gangs continue to steal customer cheques to use as templates, however, and are also targeting company chequebooks. But they are now purchasing higher quality printers, paper and ink from the internet to produce better counterfeit cheques that are much more difficult to detect. This, combined with many people no longer being familiar with cheque security, is creating increasingly fertile ground for fraudsters.
According to the head of DCPCU, DCI Dave Carter: “A previous decline in counterfeit cheque fraud ironically left a chink in the door, with criminals now combining old techniques with the specialist purchasing powers of the internet to really cash-in on a general lack of public awareness of cheque security. But these arrests send out a strong message across the UK to members of the public and criminals. The DCPCU is alive to the threat of counterfeit cheques, we take it very seriously, and will travel far and wide in pursuit of those we believe are responsible.”
The DCPCU, which is a specialist police unit sponsored by the banks to investigate serious and organised payment fraud, is working with the industry to try to stamp out organised card and cheque fraud across the UK. The unit comprises of specialist officers from the City of London and Metropolitan police forces working alongside bank investigators and case support staff, plus local police forces where relevant.
The five men, three aged 32, and one 33 and 30, and the two women, 31 and 29 were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud. They were questioned in West Yorkshire police stations and later released on bail.
By Neil Ainger