Ringleader of £100m fraud gang on run in Capital

Police are appealing for information to trace wanted man Feezan Hameed Choudhary. Picture: Contributed

Police are appealing for information to trace wanted man Feezan Hameed Choudhary. Picture: Contributed

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The ringleader of a crime gang behind a £100 million scam went on the run during a Metropolitan Police raid in the Capital.

The operation in Abbeyhill saw a private hire driver and a passenger arrested after police from London swooped on the vehicle.

Detective Inspector Arron Clinkscale. Picture: Greg Macvean

Detective Inspector Arron Clinkscale. Picture: Greg Macvean

But a third man – understood to be wanted Glasgow man Feezan Hameed Choudhary – managed to evade capture.

The exact circumstances of his escape are unclear, however the Met issued an urgent appeal for information about his whereabouts.

The raid in Montrose Terrace on Wednesday morning was part of a string of operations orchestrated by officers from Falcon, the Met’s fraud team, and resulted in 11 arrests across the UK.

The ongoing investigation is targeting an organised crime group behind an elaborate “vishing” scam, which has so far left vulnerable Capital residents more than £1m out of pocket.

Two people were arrested at the scene after a private hire car was stopped on Montrose Terrace, but one made off

DI Arron Clinkscales

Five Scots were detained and charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering offences after the arrests.

The so-called “hierarchical” fraud ring has been targeting people across the UK, however Edinburgh has been a key target due to its affluence and financial sector.

Police Scotland has been working with the Met, six other English forces and the National Crime Agency on the probe for more than a year.

It is believed that between 20 and 30 Capital-based residents have fallen foul of the “plausible” scheme, while a number of businesses have suffered losses of up to a £1m each. The majority of individuals are elderly or vulnerable.

Detective Inspector Arron Clinkscales, of Police Scotland’s organised crime unit, said it was difficult to put a combined total on losses to personal and business victims in Edinburgh, but said they were “substantial”.

He said: “This is the most prominent crime group of this kind in the UK. We’ve spent a lot of money and a lot of time investigating this, in conjunction with the Met’s flying squad.

“We’ve been in constant communication, but due to the severity they’re leading on it. This crime group has made between £60m to £100m.”

DI Clinkscales said the raid in Edinburgh on Wednesday was “part of an ongoing operation”.

Officers seized dongles, Sim cards, mobile phones, laptops and cash in raids at 14 addresses across the country.

He added: “Two people were arrested at the scene after a private hire car was stopped on Montrose Terrace, but one made off.”

The News understands that the suspect is 24-year-old Choudhary, who has links to Edinburgh. The Met described him as Asian, about 6ft 2in with black hair and brown eyes.

When the scam first came to light last year, the gang was cold-calling victims and telling them to ring back on the number listed on the back of their bank cards, while criminals stayed on the line.

After phone line operators worked with police to frustrate the scammers, the fraudsters “evolved” to use an app which disguises numbers.

The app makes the phone number they are calling from appear to be from a legitimate bank and dupes customers into revealing account information.

The caller then tells the victim that they are from a bank and have detected fraud on their account, and the cash needs to be moved to a secure account. This is done by taking the person’s bank details, or by the victim being duped into transferring money.

The cash is then quickly moved into “mule accounts” before being withdrawn from ATMs and branches.

Residents and businesses are being urged to be on their guard, even when they think the call is legitimate. Police are keen to remind people that banks will never ask for personal details on the phone.

Detective Chief Inspector Kenny Thomson, of the Scottish Crime Campus, told the News: “You’re talking about elderly people, about companies potentially going out of business and people losing their jobs because of the greed of these fraudsters. They don’t care who the victims are.”

kaye.nicolson@edinburghnews.com