Six men have been jailed for running fake vehicle hire companies and for identity theft, Surrey Police say.
David Guttridge, 33, of Crawley, was jailed for two and a half years when he appeared at Southwark Crown Court.
Liam Chenaf, 37, of Haywards Heath, was jailed for two and a half years.
David Lewis, 49, of Tadworth, was sentenced to three and a half years.
Mubassar Mirza, 37, failed to attend court for his trial but was imprisoned for four years after being tried in his absence.
Gary McFadden, 40, of South London, who received a three and a half year prison sentence.
Antony Stevens, 50, of South London, who was jailed for 18 months.
The court heard that the gang ran a fake coach hire firm from an office in Horley, taking bookings from customers despite not having any coaches.
A statement from Surrey Police: “Seven men were originally charged following the investigation, which was run in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police Service [MPS]. Three of the men pleaded guilty, three were found guilty and one was found not guilty.
“The first part of the fraud involved the setting up of a company called Freedom Coaches using false details of a member of the public based in the North East. The company was registered at a block of flats in West London and an office was obtained in Horley by Chenaf, who used false details to do so.
“The coach company was run from this location and they also set up a website to increase the sales for coach hire. They never had any coaches and never had any intention to provide coaches to members of the public who had booked their services and given them money to do so.
“The losses sustained by the victims came to just under £7,000 but if officers had not intervened when they did, the losses would have been much greater and more victims would have lost money.
“Police executed a warrant at the address in Horley on 9 May 2012 where Lewis, Guttridge and Chenaf were present and arrested. During the search of the office, police found documents relating to Freedom Coaches, as well as stolen cheque books, bank and American Express Cards, along with large amount of bank statements, driving licences and other paperwork in other people’s names.
“It was identified that around 15 American Express cards had been applied for and obtained in numerous other people’s names and used causing losses to American Express. The cheques and a bank card had also been used by Lewis used to pay for a hotel in Egypt.
“Officers also later identified that Lewis had purchased an Audi Q7 on finance using another person’s name and had produced false documents in order to achieve this.
“Following the arrests by Surrey Police, a link was established with a series of vehicle hire frauds between 2010 and 2012 which were being investigated by the Metropolitan Police Service. During this period the defendants had set up companies called Rentmeanycar.com, 118 Carhire, Arrow Motorhomes, Sundrive Hire and Motorhomesrus. They advertised cheap vehicles for hire in the press and on the radio, took deposits from customers but no vehicles were ever delivered.
“The defendants took advantage of the holiday periods to entice customers to make bookings. This was particularly distressing for victims who had booked cars advertised by the fraudsters in the run up to Christmas in 2010 and 2011. “Customers who had been hoping to travel to see family members during the holiday period were left without hire cars just a few days before Christmas and were unable to contact the companies through which they had made the bookings.
“Surrey Police and the MPS worked closely together to establish the links between the frauds and to identify those involved and bring them to justice. The total loss of the frauds was in excess of £800,000.
DC Rachel Ingram from the MPS Fraud Squad said: “By working together with Surrey Police we were able to identify an organised criminal group who had been defrauding members of the public for over two years. The fraudsters were able to attract customers by advertising cheap vehicle hire and members of the public should be wary of deals that seem too good to be true. It was through a careful and thorough investigation that these fraudsters were identified and successfully prosecuted.”
DS Chris Rambour from Surrey Police’s Economic Crime Unit, said: “This was a lengthy and complex investigation carried out in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police Service. The sentences given to all six defendants reflect the severity of the offences and the fact that had we not intervened when we did, the losses would have been much greater and the number of victims much higher.
“A huge amount of work has gone into securing these successful convictions, which reflect the determination and dedication of my team. It also demonstrates that Surrey Police takes fraud offences seriously and that we will do everything we can to bring those responsible to justice.”
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