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Jail for ‘UK’s biggest benefit fraudsters’ who stole £53m using fake claims | UK News

Five gang members who falsely claimed more than £53m in benefits have been jailed for a total of 25 years.

In what is thought to be the largest benefit fraud and money laundering-related scheme in England and Wales, the gang made thousands of false universal credit claims using real people or hijacked identities.

Gyunesh Ali, 34, committed fraud by false representation “on an industrial scale” during the scheme which also involved fellow Bulgarians Galina Nikolova, 39, Stoyan Stoyanov, 28, Tsvetka Todorova, 53, and Patritsia Paneva, 27, Judge David Aaronberg KC said.

Stoyan Stoyanov. Pic: CPS. Bulgarian nationals, Galina Nikolova, 38, Stoyan Stoyanov, 27, Tsvetka Todorova, 52, Gyunesh Ali, 33, and Patritsia Paneva, 26, have pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering related offences at Wood Green Crown Court for their involvement in a multi-million-pound scam on the benefit system.
Image:
Stoyan Stoyanov. Pic: CPS

Tsvetka Todorova. Pic: CPS. Bulgarian nationals, Galina Nikolova, 38, Stoyan Stoyanov, 27, Tsvetka Todorova, 52, Gyunesh Ali, 33, and Patritsia Paneva, 26, have pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering related offences at Wood Green Crown Court for their involvement in a multi-million-pound scam on the benefit system.
Image:
Tsvetka Todorova. Pic: CPS

At Wood Green Crown Court in London, they were sentenced to a total of 25 years and five months in prison after pleading guilty to multiple fraud and money laundering-related offences.

They were also all warned they are liable to be deported after serving their sentences and the judge acknowledged “an enormous amount of work” was carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to prosecute the gang.

Bundles of cash stuffed in shopping bags and suitcases were found during a raid on their properties, as well as a luxury car and designer watches, jackets and glasses, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said.

One gang member was also filmed throwing stacks of £20 notes in the air.

The gang supported their false benefits claims with an array of forged documents, including tenancy agreements, payslips and letters from landlords, employers, schools and GPs.

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Benefit fraudsters throw money in the air

If the claims were rejected by the DWP, the gang would try again until they were accepted.

Investigators discovered three “benefit factories” in London, where they claimed to help people obtain national insurance numbers using “claim packs” of forged and false documents, the CPS said.

Patritsia Paneva. Pic: CPS
Image:
Patritsia Paneva. Pic: CPS

The court heard they also gave claimants tips on how to fool the system.

After applicants made the claims, they left them in the gang’s hands and they then laundered the money through several bank accounts.

Ali and Nikolova were the main people behind the fraud.

The judge said the maximum sentence he could give them under current laws is 10 years but added he would give them credit for their guilty pleas, time served and other mitigating factors.

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Ali, who had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to make false representations, possession of articles for use in fraud and possessing criminal property, was sentenced to seven years and six months in prison.

The judge told him: “You played a leading role in a scheme that was complex and sophisticated in nature. Your offending lasted for some four-and-a-half years and were involved in a vast number of false declarations.”

He had fled to Bulgaria after his arrest but was extradited back to the UK in February 2023.

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Nikolova, who was found to have caused £25m in losses for taxpayers, was given eight years in prison.

Todorova was given a three-year sentence but she was due to be released on licence on Thursday because of time already served in custody and under house arrest.

In court, it emerged Todorova and Nikolova had tried, unsuccessfully, to flee the UK after their arrests in May 2021.

Paneva was 19 years old and was paid £80 a day when she was recruited by the gang’s leaders for the scheme. She was jailed for three years and two months.

Stoyanov was sentenced to four years in prison after also pleading guilty to multiple charges.

An order for a surcharge is set to be made at a future confiscation hearing.

Drivers fined after fake 50mph speed limit sign placed in 40mph zone in Sidcup | UK News

Hundreds of drivers are said to have been wrongly fined after a fake 50mph sign was placed in a 40mph speed zone – but the Metropolitan Police has said the fines are still “within the law”.

The sign was erected on the A20 in Sidcup, southeast London.

Transport for London reduced the speed limit on the road last year “in response to a number of incidents caused by ongoing flooding issues”.

The Met said it has now launched an investigation into the incident as an attempt to “pervert the court of justice”.

But the force said it is satisfied the fines issued are “within the law” as there were several other 40mph speed signs in the area.

Dominic Smith, director at Patterson Law, a firm that specialises in motoring offences, said he has never “seen anything quite like this, on this magnitude”.

He added: “We’ve been contacted in the last week by about 400 or 500 individuals, of which about 100 to 150 are at risk of losing their licences because of this.

“Usually when a new speed camera goes up, we can tell here because we get maybe about two or three enquiries a day for a couple of days – 40 to 50 a day we’re getting at the moment. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

A Transport for London (TfL) spokesperson said: “For a short period, an incorrect 50mph sign was illegally placed at one location on the road by somebody who had not been authorised by TfL to place it here, putting people travelling at risk.

“This was immediately replaced with the correct 40mph signage. All other signage is correct and compliant with the regulations.”

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The spokesperson added: “Safety is our number one priority and we temporarily introduced a 40mph speed limit on the A20 Sidcup Road in response to a number of incidents caused by ongoing flooding issues, which could have posed a risk to life.

“It is important that people follow the new speed limit to ensure that everyone can travel safely along this road and safety camera enforcement is a vital part of this.

“We want to ensure that all drivers are treated fairly and new, regular speed limit signage, compliant with all traffic sign regulations, was installed to ensure that everyone driving here is aware of the new limit.”

Hidden fees and fake reviews for online shoppers to be banned | Business News

Unavoidable hidden charges for online consumers, a practice known as drip pricing, is to be banned under a wider transparency drive.

The Department for Business and Trade (DBT) said additional fees, which are only revealed late in the checkout process and cost customers £2.2bn a year, must be included in the headline price under the planned Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.

The measure will affect things like tickets for trains and the cinema but not optional fees, such as airline seat and luggage upgrades.

The crackdown will also see fake reviews added to a list of banned business practices, with website hosts to be accountable for information on their pages.

New rules on grocery pricing also aim to make costs clearer for shoppers.

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The proposals cover so-called unit pricing, the cost per kilo for example, which would have to be consistently displayed across ranges including discounted items to give shoppers an informed choice on whether they are getting the best deal.

They build on the work of consumer groups and, latterly, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

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Kevin Hollinrake, the minister for enterprise, markets and small business, said: “From supermarket shelves to digital baskets, modern day shopping provides customers with more choice than ever before. But with that comes the increased risk of confusion, scams and traps that can easily cost the public more than they had planned.

“Today’s announcement demonstrates the clear steps we’re taking as a government to ensure customers can compare purchases with ease, aren’t duped by fake reviews, and have the sting of hidden fees taken away.”

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A spokesperson for the CMA, which would be responsible for policing the changes, said: “It’s positive to see the government pushing ahead with changes to tackle behaviour that misleads shoppers or leaves them out of pocket – which includes accepting the CMA’s recommendations for clearer groceries pricing.

“Stronger laws and tools, including giving the CMA the power to fine companies for breaching consumer law under the DMCC Bill, will bolster the work we are already doing to protect consumers.”

Shoppers told to avoid fake Wonka and Prime-branded chocolate bars | UK News

Shoppers have been warned not to buy or eat fake and potentially unsafe Prime or Wonka chocolate bars.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said it had received reports of fake branded chocolate on sale and was working with Trading Standards to protect consumers.

Prime, the popular drinks brand, does not make any Prime-branded food products, meaning the chocolate bars are fake and could be unsafe.

The FSA also said any Wonka bars sold in a shop, online or on a market stall “will not be the real thing”.

It warned the ingredients list might not be correct and allergen labels may not have been applied correctly.

Fake Wonka Bars were removed from sale last year after having been found to contain allergens that were not listed on the label, posing a major health risk to anyone who suffers from a food allergy or intolerance.

Tina Potter, head of incidents at the FSA, said: “With Christmas coming up, don’t waste your money on fake branded chocolate for your children, friends or family – you won’t be getting what you think you are paying for and you don’t know what is in them.

“There could be a food safety risk, especially for those with food intolerances or allergies.”

Undated handout photo issued by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) of a fake Prime branded chocolate bar. The FSA is warning members of the public not to buy or eat fake Wonka Bars or Prime chocolate bars for safety reasons. Issue date: Monday December 4, 2023.

He added: “We know there is a problem with potentially unsafe fake chocolate bars such as Wonka and Prime bars and we’re working with Trading Standards to protect consumers.

“Please do not buy or eat these bars and if you think you’ve bought a fake chocolate bar, or if you see something that does not seem right when you are shopping, report it to your Local Authority.”

The warning follows quantities of hallucinogenic drugs found in “a small number” of chocolate bars sold at Mansfield Market in Nottinghamshire late last month.

Nottinghamshire Police received reports of people falling ill after consuming chocolate both labelled as Cali-Gold and unbranded, and later said Psilocin – found in magic mushrooms – and THC – a substance found in cannabis – were discovered in some of the bars.

Dangerous plug-in heaters promoted in fake reviews and dodgy ads fail fire safety tests | UK News

Dangerous plug-in heaters are being sold online – taking advantage of those trying to stay warm despite surging energy bills, Which? says.

Some of the products were featured in fake reviews and dodgy ads, leaving people at risk of fires or electric shocks.

Ten mini plug-in heaters – some as cheap as £12 – were tested by Which? and all of them failed safety tests. Four of them – three on eBay and one on Amazon – were a fire risk.

All of the models tested did not meet the Electrical Equipment Safety Regulations.

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said the products were illegal, could cause serious harm, and show that online platforms must do more to protect consumers.

She added: “The government must urgently legislate to strengthen product safety, including giving online marketplaces greater legal responsibility for unsafe products sold on their sites so that consumers are far better protected.

“Self-regulation of online platforms is simply not working. These platforms have put in place inadequate measures which leave consumers at risk. The government must give these platforms greater responsibility to protect people online.”

Among the problematic heaters was the Plug-In Wall Heater 500W sold by a third-party seller on eBay.

Which? said the plastic surround holding the heating element in place melted and the heating element slipped down to create another melted area, which was against the outer grill, meaning that touching it could result in shock or burns.

Several versions of this heater sold on Amazon, eBay and Wish all failed, and Trading Standards also issued a recall notice for another model sold on eBay that appeared to be identical.

An electric portable plug-in heater, sold on Amazon, had counterfeit fuses that had been used in the plug for the heater. They posed a risk of electric shock, fire or even an explosion, Which? said.

Another plug-in wall heater, sold on eBay, posed a risk of fire or electric shock, with internal wires soldered directly onto a circuit board, while another circuit board was just loose within the product.

An Amazon spokesperson said: “Safety is a top priority at Amazon and we require all products offered in our store to comply with applicable laws and regulations.

“Two products were removed in December, including one in relation to safety concerns, and we have proactively removed similar items and introduced measures to prevent new products going on sale.

“We have removed the remaining two products while we investigate. If customers have concerns about an item they’ve purchased, we encourage them to contact us directly so we can investigate and take appropriate action.”

An eBay spokesperson said: “We take the safety of our users very seriously. We had already removed three of the five listings that Which? flagged to us. One of the two remaining listings is selling a different product and the other one has already ended.

“We use block filter algorithms aimed at preventing unsafe products from being listed. These filters blocked 4.8 million listings in 2022 and are updated on a regular basis.

“On the rare occasion that an unsafe product does make it on to site, we swiftly remove it and provide product safety education to the sellers to prevent relisting.”

Wish said: “Product safety is a top priority for Wish. The listing highlighted by Which? has been removed from our European platform, and we are monitoring for any identical or similar listings. We will take further action as appropriate.”

Google was asked for comment but had not provided one.