Nine people have been arrested on suspicion of being involved in a multimillion international phone fraud, which targeted operator O2.
City of London Police made the arrests on Thursday in connection with "an elaborate and expansive fraud" involving premium rate numbers, the police force said in a statement.
"Today we have struck at the very heart of a complex criminal network that has been targeting the telecommunications industry to steal millions of pounds," said Detective Superintendent Bob Wishart, from the City of London Police, in the statement. "Our investigation found a crime gathering momentum. Each month more SIM cards were being used to make more phone calls to premium rate lines at more expense to the network provider."
The gang allegedly used fake identities to get hold of handsets on contract with O2. A police spokesman told ZDNet UK on Friday that the gang took high value handsets, including iPhones, on subsidised contracts, which meant the gang didn't pay for the handsets.
A member or members of the gang then allegedly took the SIM cards from the phones, and arranged for the SIM cards to be put in automatic dialling machines abroad, said the spokesman. The machines phoned premium rate numbers which the gang had set up, predominantly in Asia, on phone lines that charged up to £10 per minute.
Telecoms regulations in some Asian countries require operators to pay for premium rate numbers before collecting the money from customers. O2 paid the premium bills, and notified the police after it in turn approached its supposed customers for payment and discovered the fraud. Police believe the gang stole millions of pounds over a period of months, said the spokesman.
As an adjunct to the fraud, the gang allegedly took the handsets and sold them abroad, the spokesperson added.
The gang has been given police bail pending further investigation by the police fraud unit. O2 said in the statement that its own fraud team had aided the police investigation.
"We are committed to reducing mobile phone crime and have a dedicated team that monitors and investigates such attempted criminal activity," said Adrian Gorham, O2's general manager of fraud and security. "We are extremely pleased that our own investigation and the information we have shared with the City of London Police has resulted in these arrests."