23 Apr 2013

Final face behind £40k east Hull benefit fraud scam

It was one of the biggest benefit fraud scams ever seen in Hull.

A plot to change amounts on benefit cheques for higher sums embroiled more than 30 people and netted £40,000.

Dean Gold was one of the organisers of the scheme, which swept through the Preston Road Estate in east Hull.

He acted as a middle man between residents and a loan shark he claimed would arrange for the cheques to be altered.

Gold, 28, would pass the cheques to the loan shark and then cash them once they had been changed.

He and his brother Craig Gold, 25, who gave Dean two cheques for altering, are the last of a group of 27 to face justice for their involvement in the scheme.

"They were cheating the taxpayer out of money they were not entitled to," said Bob Gallacher, regional fraud manager for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

"That is money which could be spent on other things, like education or health services, and is clearly not acceptable."

Although no one has been convicted of running the scam, police and DWP investigators say they are confident everyone involved has been caught.

"We believe if there was anyone still out there, it would still be happening," said Mr Gallacher.

"But the fraud stopped when these people were arrested. That is what makes this a successful operation."

It was early last year when suspicions were raised.

A number of cheques were examined by the DWP's regional fraud unit and were found to have been altered to higher amounts.

They were all in a different font and larger typeface than was found on standard cheques and all of them were from the HU9 area of Hull.

Investigators from the team immediately launched Operation Languish with detectives from Humberside Police.

"It wasn't as straightforward as just being able to go out and arrest everyone," said Mr Gallacher. "An investigation like this takes time, especially when it involves this many people."

When police made their first arrests in July last year, they told the suspects they had a list of everyone who had been involved.

Assuming the scheme had been reliant of word-of-mouth in the first place, they trusted word would soon spread.

It did and before long people who investigators had no suspicions of were calling police to confess their involvement.

"We told them we knew it involved a select group of people and that we would be coming to get them if they didn't come to us first," said Detective Inspector Simon Henrickson, of the city's priority crime team.

"It didn't take long before we had people coming in saying they had done it."

During a series of interviews, details of the scam began to emerge.

Most of those involved had paid for just one or two of their own cheques – usually Jobseekers' Allowances or crisis loan money – to be altered for higher amounts.

When interviewed, one of the defendants said: "You should have known something was going on – everybody had new trackies and trainers and it wasn't even Christmas."

Another told officers: "Everyone on the estate was doing it."

All said they would pay a man to change the figure on the cheque and would then cash them at the East Park Post Office in Holderness Road.

Many said they did not want to be thought of as a "grass" on the estate.

Just one of the people who was questioned gave police a name for who was responsible for the alterations.

In interviews with police, Gold said the scam emerged because he owed a loan shark some money and would pass him his own benefit cheques to be altered, allowing the loan shark to keep the profit.

When his debt to the loan shark had been settled, Gold said he would continue to pass others people's benefit cheques on to the loan shark, in exchange for £30.

Gold's solicitor, Geoff Ellis, said that meant Gold, of Cambridge Grove, was at the "forefront" of the scam. However, a judge said Gold's claims "stretched the imagination".

Dean and Craig Gold made about £4,500 from their involvement, with Craig playing a minor role by passing his brother two cheques.

Dean admitted two charges of fraud and asked for three others to be taken into consideration at Hull Crown Court. Craig admitted two fraud charges.

Sentencing Dean Gold, Recorder Christopher Attwool, said: "Your case has certain facets to it which stretch the imagination somewhat, particularly the role of this loan shark which you both seem to have come under the power of.

"I don't know the truth behind that. What I do know is you presented cheques that had been altered and cashed them, either for your own benefit or cheques made out to others and kept – if you accept your story – a portion of the money."

Dean was given a community order with 200 hours of unpaid work, with Craig ordered to complete 100 hours.

The 25 others convicted for their part in plot to alter benefit cheques

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