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Tuesday, February 16, 1999 Published at 16:30 GMT

Business: Your Money

Fraudsters target credit cards

Police say buying goods via the Internet is an added area of potential fraud

Gangs of criminals from the Far East are behind an explosion of credit card fraud in the UK, according to the police.

BBC Crime Correspondent Stephen Cape: "Shoppers have been warned to be vigilant"
The National Criminal Intelligence Service says these highly organised gangs have even set up card counterfeiting factories in the UK where they make high quality fakes.

The gangs are said to be one of the main reasons why credit card fraud in the UK has increased more than fivefold since 1991 and cost domestic industry 26m last year alone.

That'll do nicely

[ image: Once the gangs have landed in the UK they hit the motoways]
Once the gangs have landed in the UK they hit the motoways
'Mules', as they are known, are recruited from countries such as Malaysia and fly into Britain where they are picked up by accomplices who are already armed with the fake cards.

The 'mules' then go on a day-long spending spree, often along Britain's motorway network, to some of the country's major retail centres before shipping expensive goods back to south east Asia.

Head of the NCIS specialist crime unit, Wayne Smith, said: "There is clear evidence that organised criminals are exploiting the payment card industry, using counterfeit cards to defraud millions of pounds which are then used to fund their lifestyles or other criminal ventures."

[ image: The shopping centres close to motoways are a favoured location for the gangs]
The shopping centres close to motoways are a favoured location for the gangs
At a briefing at NCIS headquarters in London, Mr Smith said the skilled Far East gangs had invested time and money to improve their counterfeiting techniques.

They strike throughout Europe and move across borders with equipment small enough to be stowed inside a single suitcase.

NCIS's information has been gleaned from arrests, from names used on the cards and from examination of shop security cameras.

Favourite shopping items for these Far East gangs include designer goods, expensive watches and jewellery. Once the goods are shipped back to Asia they are often sold at even higher prices.

Such gangs used to be based, predominantly, in Hong Kong but the authorities' anti-corruption units have forced them to shift their operations to countries like Malaysia, said Mr Smith.

African hit squads

[ image: Credit card fraud is an escalating problem]
Credit card fraud is an escalating problem
West African groups are also operating in Britain but they tend to concentrate on using cards at bureaux de change where they obtain hundreds of pounds worth of foreign currency, Mr Smith said.

He warned that credit card crime was likely to increase and was now outstripping counterfeit bank notes.

With the increased use of cards and the Internet, he said there was greater scope for credit card crime.

In 1998, 6.1m of counterfeit Bank of England notes were recovered, which compared with 26m lost by the UK card issuers.

NCIS has set up an intelligence unit to encourage close cooperation between the card companies and law enforcement agencies across Europe to disrupt this growing industry.

Paul Marsh, of the Association for Payment Clearing Services, said banks were investing millions of pounds to try to combat the problem.

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