Two masterminds ran the site from villas in Alicante in Spain while associates in Britain created fake documents including bank statements, payslips, driving licences and bills, police said after Friday’s judgement.
The site’s 11,000 clients could buy a full credit profile — often with an identity stolen from an unsuspecting member of the public — including a postal address, for £5,500 ($8,500, 6,800 euros).
Some of the site’s “students in crime” spent more than £20,000 on false documents from a “well-practised production line”, police said, but resulting frauds in some cases netted over £1 million.
Police said the men behind the website, called Confidential Access, would regularly demand a cut of the proceeds once a successful fraud was launched — and threaten to ruin the fake credit profile if the customer refused.
Customers could also buy web coaching and access to online forums with handy tips and advice, with the most exclusive forum, for VIP criminals only, known as “The Black Marketplace”.
Users of the site could also advance through different “trust levels” according to their engagement with the site and how much money they had spent.
They were graded using nautical terms which rose from “Skylarker” through “Shore Patrol” to “Ship’s Surgeon”, police said.
The site was billed initially as selling novelty documents for people to impress their friends, but police were unconvinced by this explanation.
They seized the group’s servers in Hong Kong and cracked the encryption codes only to find that Confidential Access had started up again using servers in the Netherlands, which in turn were seized.
“This was a sophisticated operation which has netted millions of pounds over the years,” Detective Inspector Tim Dowdeswell of Scotland Yard said in a statement.
“These cyber criminals not only provided the tools to commit fraud — they instructed their clients in how to use them to make the maximum amount of money, whilst ruining real people’s credit histories into the bargain.”
Joint head of the site Jason Place, 42, was handed six years and nine months in jail for conspiracy to defraud, but his business partner Barry Sales was not prosecuted because he is terminally ill.
Five other men from around Britain of ages ranging from 22 to 59, who like Place had all pleaded guilty at Southwark Crown Court, London, were handed sentences ranging from a six-month suspended sentence to two years and three months in jail.
“We have already brought many of their students in crime to court and will continue to work with other police forces and partners to bring those people who bought and used these identities in their own frauds to justice,” Dowdeswell said.