Mohammed Mansha Abbas, Mohammed Zulfqar Abbas, Mohammed Vaqaas Abbas and Imran Shan have today been sentenced at Leeds Crown Court to a total of 19 ½ years following a joint investigation by West Yorkshire Trading Standards Service and West Yorkshire Police.
A fifth defendant, Nasar Munir, will be sentenced at a later date for his part in the fraud.
Trading Standards first began an investigation into the activities of Bespoke Home Security Ltd and Bespoke Home Improvements Group Ltd in early 2015 following a number of complaints regarding their selling practices.
Mohammed Mansha Abbas was already a banned director. The Trading Standards investigation established that despite appearances to the contrary, he held a controlling interest in Bespoke Home Security Ltd and Bespoke Home Improvements Group Ltd in breach of this disqualification.
Victims of the fraud were initially cold-called by National Survey Line Ltd staff who had been provided with a series of dishonest scripts to be used during calls. The victim would be told of rising crime rates and be scared into thinking there was a need for them to install security products. If they agreed to a visit they were often visited the same day by a salesman from Bespoke Home Security Ltd.
The 5 defendants each carried out the role of salesman. They would stay in the victim’s home for several hours and use high-pressure selling tactics to encourage victims to take out a contract there and then for work that was often over-priced or unnecessary. In several cases the victims believed they were receiving a government grant towards the price of the works but the grant did not exist and was merely a tactic used to encourage sales. In some cases the defendants would take the victim to the bank to secure deposits. Later the business expanded to offer home improvements.
A number of victims had loans taken out in their names to pay for works without their knowledge. The defendants used an account in the name of a business associate to submit these online loans using false income details and email addresses which they had created and had access to. Many of the victims did not have access to email, some had never even accessed the internet. Some victims were in receipt of pensions and benefits which meant they would never have been able to afford the loan repayments. Others had loans taken out in their names when they had not even had any work done by the company. The company received the loan funds direct and the victim was then saddled with an ongoing financial commitment. On occasion the defendants even took a victim’s bank card details in order to make purchases themselves and set up online banking facilities in the victim’s name so as to be able to exercise control over the victim’s finances.
Warrants were executed initially in September 2016 at the business premises and home addresses of three of the defendants. The companies were purporting to be based on the ground floor at Ridings House which was found to be operating as a call-centre. A separate company 121 Legal Solutions Ltd of which Mohammed Vaqaas Abbas was the stated director was operating from the 1st floor in separate premises.
In March 2017 whilst enquiries were ongoing into the Trading Standards investigation, West Yorkshire Police began investigating after a report was taken at an address in Pontefract where the victim had complained that men posed as officials from a solar company, telling the victim he was due a refund. The suspects then used a chip and pin machine with the victim’s bankcard. The victim then realised that the suspects had not given a refund and had in fact taken £3,500 from his bank account. In March 2017 Police arrested Munir and Mohammed Mansha Abbas. This victim’s report led police to identify a further eight victims from all across the north of England, including Sheffield, Blackburn and Manchester. The suspects used the same tactics to deceive these elderly and vulnerable victims, using the same chip and pin machine to transfer the stolen money. They also went on to use the victim’s personal details to create online banking accounts in their names where they then applied for loans all unbeknown to the victims who were then paying these back in monthly instalments. The suspects even took images of the victim’s bank cards on their phones without the consent or knowledge of the victims.
Later, financial enquiries established payments between 121 Legal Solutions Ltd, Bespoke Home Security Ltd and the defendants. Trading Standards obtained further warrants in August 2017 to include the 1st floor at Ridings House. On execution it was identified that the 1st floor premises contained the management offices and all customer records for Bespoke Home Security Ltd and Bespoke Home Improvements Group Ltd. The business 121 Legal Solutions Ltd is believed to have been set up purely to allow the defendants an opportunity to operate without detection.
During the course of the police investigation an I-phone seized from Munir was examined. The contents revealed in detail the culture at the companies. Victims were treated with disdain and mocked in a series of messages, videos and images shared between them. In a series of chats on Whatsapp the defendants discussed those that they were targeting - ‘Perfect profile Single lady 89 years old Blind Disabled Alzheimer's’ and how they were doing it - ‘That was a great kidnap’ ….’taking people in your car against there will lol’…..’this will never get old lol’……’cancelled 20mins after he left the house’…..’lol’……’he said he forced me to do acts I didn’t want to to’….’hahahahaha’……’let me guess he’s been abused, another one of your victims Nas lol.’ A total of 28 victims were identified in the Trading Standards investigation who were predominantly elderly and/or vulnerable. The defendants deliberately targeted pensioners by buying call-data for homeowners over 60. They would also repeatedly target those customers who they had success with in the past. Their priority was making money at any cost, the aim to squeeze every last penny out of the victim using whatever tactics necessary to do so.
The full sentence details are as follows:
Nasar Munir of Cottingley Road, Bradford pleaded guilty to 3 counts of conspiracy to defraud and will next appear at Leeds Crown Court on 17th March 2020.
In sentencing the defendants, His Honour Judge Stubbs QC said this was a sophisticated fraud where the defendants removed as much money from the victims as they could get. As illustrated by the “eloquent and powerful victim impact statements” this had a “longstanding and devastating impact on them”. The Judge took into account the mitigation and testimonials received in relation to the defendants but said it was hard to accept that the defendants were feeling remorseful given the content of the seized I-phone. The sentences imposed reflect each defendant’s individual role within the fraud.
Another defendant in the police case Roman Le who sourced the card machine used in the fraud was convicted of money laundering and sentenced to 12 months suspended for 2 years with an order to undertake 150 hours of unpaid work. The prosecution offered no evidence in respect of the final defendant Xiaoying Feng.
Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 proceedings will now follow to recover the defendants’ benefit from criminal conduct and compensate their victims.
This is another conviction secured by the West Yorkshire Financial Exploitation and Abuse Team (WYFEAT) at West Yorkshire Trading Standards.
Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), said: “This is another shocking and cruel example of exploitation perpetrated against the vulnerable. The painstaking work and complexity of investigating and prosecuting these cases cannot be under-estimated, and it’s a real testament to the dedication and commitment of the WYFEAT team and West Yorkshire Police that these offenders have now been brought to justice for their deceitful actions.
I have provided funding and support to the joint WYFEAT team for a number of years as part of my commitment to help safeguard vulnerable people in West Yorkshire providing effective and robust law enforcement through partnership working. These sentences and outcomes should act as a strong deterrent to others, results such as these really do help to keep our communities safe and I would like to thank all the joint teams for their efforts and hard work”
Leeds Councillor Pauleen Grahame, Chair of the West Yorkshire Joint Services Governance and Audit Sub-Committee which oversees the work of Trading Standards said: “The Trading Standards team work tirelessly to investigate fraud and financial abuse against the vulnerable and to bring offenders to justice. These sentences should serve as a warning to others of the punishments that await offenders. We are committed to protecting our residents from fraud and financial abuse and we welcome the support from WYFEAT and West Yorkshire Police in tackling this horrendous crime.”
Linda Davis, Head of the WYFEAT Task Force said of the case: “This crime was motivated by money and shows the extreme lengths the offenders were prepared to go to in pursuit of it and to hide their illicit activities from the authorities. The offenders gained the trust of the victims, many of whom were vulnerable and isolated, and then exploited significant sums of money from them by whatever means possible. They also cynically re-targeted the same victims. We are extremely committed to protecting the residents of West Yorkshire from fraud and financial exploitation and we will take all steps necessary to deal with perpetrators and prevent others becoming victims. If you have a concern about someone vulnerable who you believe may be a victim of financial abuse or fraud, please contact us via the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133”.
Detective Constable Donna Atkinson from Wakefield CID said: ‘I am pleased with the sentences handed down today in what has been a very complex and lengthy investigation for West Yorkshire Police and Trading Standards. These men targeted people who were vulnerable because of their age to defraud them out of thousands of pounds. They also targeted people who had been genuine customers in the past and abused their trust to steal huge amounts of money. These criminals were very sophisticated and manipulative, making money in any way possible. West Yorkshire Police and Trading Standards have worked hard to get justice for the victims in this case in what has been a traumatic time for them. West Yorkshire Police offers lots of crime prevention advice relating to fraud at www.westyorkshire.police.uk/fraud”
Notes to Editor
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Safeguarding and Investigations Manager