BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 February 2008, 18:34 GMT
How secure is Chip and PIN?

He's a convicted credit card fraudster with a story to tell. Elliot Castro began stealing other people's identities when he was still a teenager.

Two alternative covers of Other People's Money
With the credit card limits of countless victims at his disposal, he spent hundreds of thousands of pounds over the years on living the high life: expensive hotels, flashy clothes, gold watches, an existence washed down with endless bottles of champagne.

Several stays in numerous prisons, not all of them in the UK, weren't enough to deter him - rather, the spells of incarceration left him resolved to perfect his techniques, to avoid being locked up again. But justice still caught up with him in the end.

Elliot Castro, described as Britain's most audacious credit card fraudster, is co-author of his own life story - Other People's Money, the latest entry in Newsnight's book club.

OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY by Neil Forsyth with Elliot Castro

From Chapter Seventeen

Gatwick was cold and threatening and I decided to retreat to the anonymity of London. I booked into a chain hotel in the West End and got to work on getting me some new cards. It was one of the first calls I made, the one that brought the Lieutenant's card. I didn't know about his background until the card came through - I'd asked for a Mr Smith and it hadn't come up in the conversation.

It was one of the card services that didn't offer the duplicate card on the account without all sorts of authorization. I would be out of this hotel within days, however, so I ordered a replacement card in the account holder's name instead. Might as well give it a go, I thought with my remaining Caribbean optimism. Then the next day the card came through and I saw the Lt where the Mr should have been.

I called the card company to check my details and the young man read out my full title with a definite tone of respect. This was too good an opportunity and I absent-mindedly asked to check the credit limit.

'Fifty thousand pounds,' confirmed the man and I turned to look for my jacket.

A few years before this, in another life, I had sat in the lounge at the Keppenburn Unit in Ayrshire and read a profile of a company called Gieves and Hawkes. They were a tailor's based at No. 1 Savile Row, the 'jewel in the crown' of that famous street, the article stated. They had dressed the world's royalty and rulers for 200 years and also had a firm military tradition. They had made the uniforms of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and the Bounty's Captain Bligh. And now they were going to make mine.

Standing in the musty store, with the royal crests on the wall and oil portraits all around, I felt like a returning war hero. An old man stretched a tape measure across my back as we ran through some military small talk. The invasion of Iraq had started a couple of months previously and we spoke of the possibility of me seeing some action out there.

'It's a terrible business,' muttered the old man, 'that bloody Bush, he's made a right mess of it.'

'I've been speaking to some of the chaps,' I said, looking distant and affected. 'They say it's hell out there.'

'Well,' he said encouragingly, 'at least you'll look the part.'

I felt a bit bad then, I promise I did, at this nice old man trying to smooth the fears of a war-bound rookie. But I was also pretty excited about the uniform, which was to be ready the following morning. From Savile Row I wandered round to Bond Street and the Watches of Switzerland store that I had lusted after from afar.

Many times I had stood outside, transfixed by the banks of gold and silver, but this time I walked straight in and called over a sales attendant. I asked him to talk me through the Rolex range, explaining that I was a Royal Navy lieutenant home on shore leave and looking to buy myself a treat.

For maybe the twentieth occasion in the previous two years, I stood and nodded as a salesman offered the particular pull of each member of the Rolex family. Once again I tried a number on before selecting a watch and explaining that I would be back the next day to collect it. The difference was that, this time, I intended to return.

The following morning I was at Gieves and Hawkes for opening. The uniform was superb and I told them I was going to change into it now as I had a formal lunch to attend. I put my other clothes into a briefcase that I had bought the day before and emerged back into the street. I looked both fantastic and ridiculous and got a bad case of the giggles as I walked through the morning shoppers.

I composed myself and slipped back into Watches of Switzerland. The same sales attendant was there but he didn't recognize me until I dramatically removed my hat, at which point he fairly darted around the showcases to get to me. The Rolex I took was at the lower end, a couple of grand's worth, but it was an enthralling moment.

As he passed the card through I didn't feel even a flicker of doubt. Even if the card was rejected, the uniform hung between myself and any chance of discovery. In the void before the receipt printing, he slid the box over the glass to me and I put it with the rest of my worldly possessions in my bag.

From Bond Street I took a taxi to Euston station and then a train to Manchester. I settled into my seat and prised open the box. It was the heaviest stamp I had yet received of my upward trajectory. I pulled up the embroidered sleeve of my jacket and let the watch slip round to flaunt its origin to the world. I practised scratching the back of my neck or adjusting my hat in such a manner so as to display this emblem of excess.

With the uniform and the glinting watch, I was a force to be reckoned with on that train. I was on the up and up and ready to take Manchester by storm but unfortunately one half of the dream pairing was rendered redundant that evening. I booked into a nice hotel in Deansgate and ordered some takeaway food, after which I made my usual security calls to the bank using a merchant code from a bar in London.

My Lieutenant card had been cancelled, an event probably triggered by the item hanging from my arm. Bollocks. I needed the card to compliment the uniform, and remove any doubts about my fresh-faced complexion. Without it I was just what I was - an over-enthusiastic twenty-year-old in fancy dress.

From Chapter Twelve

One of the big choices you make in prison is how to fill those days that the state has decided to take from you. In brief, you get a job or you enrol for Education. The jobs come from a fairly narrow spectrum that usually involves some degree of cleaning or kitchen work. I once met a surgeon in prison, for example, who had been told he was tailor-made for dishwashing.

Being someone who might accurately be described as a non-manual worker, I decided to take my usual trusty route into IT classes. Once again, the classes had little relationship to IT other than the fact that there happened to be computers in the room. Sometimes the computers would not even be turned on and so we would just sit and talk about computers, in a room full of computers.

After a week of suffering I decided to politely approach the two ladies who ran the classes and ask if there were any alternatives. It paid off spectacularly the following day when they called me aside and offered up a role in the prison library. From the next morning I began spending my days sorting books, handling returns and even suggesting titles to some of the more cautious of the prisoners.

It was a great job, other than the fact I had to go to prison to get it, but I had made a serious error. I may have known the lingo and the basics of prison life by this point but I clearly hadn't picked up on a very important lesson - that a new prisoner being awarded one of the cushiest jobs in the place arouses considerable attention and suspicion.

The conclusion that will generally be drawn in such a situation is that the prisoner is either a grass or under some form of protection. So while I was innocently stamping books in the library, trouble was brewing. It came to a head when I was waiting for my shot on the pool table during Association and another prisoner jumped in front of me.

A shouting match broke out between us and, from the way that unaffected bystanders suddenly swarmed round, it was clear that this was not a spontaneous incident. The screws arrived quickly and broke things up but the next day on the way to the Education building, the same guy came at me through the crowd.

He swung at me and missed and I instinctively swung back at him with the raw force of my fourteen stones, catching him hard on the mouth. He fell to the floor and rose to his knees with blood seeping through the hand that covered his face. I kept walking and was ten yards down the path when the screws finally appeared, running blindly past me.

After that I never got any more than semi-aggressive banter from the other inmates about my plush appointment. As they stood at my desk waiting for their books they would jokingly ask me which screw I'd slept with to get the job. I elected not to inform them that there were a few of the screws that I would have quite happily taken on.

That was another of the reasons that I couldn't really join in the prison conversation, which broadly speaking would centre on moaning about being in prison or sex. For me, prison was an unfortunate by-product of the activities I had chosen. Moaning about ending up there didn't make any sense.

When it came to sex I had the twin concerns of having little to offer and the experiences that I could have shared probably not being designed for an audience of male prisoners. I was once again left to enjoy my own company but that was fine with me, especially when I had unlimited access to books.

As the months passed by, I tried a few different areas of self-improvement in HMP Hindley. First I tried tackling psychology. I thought it might give me an edge over other people, and help me understand myself, but it didn't do anything for me. I didn't need to try and arm myself with science, I decided, I had enough confidence to trust my judgement. Instead, I became entranced by the Roman Empire, about its dramatic rise (up to Scotland at one stage) and fall.

I was only getting to grips with Rome's eventual collapse when I was moved onto the cleaning detail and forced to give up my role at the library. I'd landed on my feet again though, being given the task of looking after three administrative screws who shared a large open-plan office.

I would make them tea and coffee, clean the office and the toilet, empty the bins and so on. When there was nothing to do I would retire to a small room through the back that I jokingly referred to as my office. The three screws grew to like me, or tolerate me perhaps, and sometimes the four of us would chat away as if we were four colleagues doing our 9 to 5. One of them, Gordon, was a particularly approachable sort and it was to him that I went as my release date neared.

I was terrified of being gate arrested again but he came back to me the day before my release and gave me the joyous news that there was no warrants outstanding for me. Plenty of screws would have lied to me about this, but Gordon wasn't a hard guy to read. After I had said my farewells to the others he followed me out to the stairs.

'You're a smart guy, Elliot,' he said. 'I hope you've got something constructive planned for when you get out.'

'Aye, I do Gordon, don't you worry,' I assured him.

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