News item

Scambusters success: conmen jailed for £2.2m car matching scam

Four defendants convicted in November for the involvement in a car matching scams were sentenced at Wood Green Crown Court on 6 January.  The scam netted them over £2.2m in total and targeted over 27,000 customers.
 
Panayotis Christofi received a 30 month prison sentence and was disqualified from being a company director for 8 years. 

Craig Brannigan received 24 months imprisonment and was also disqualified from being a company director for 8 years. 

Sam Dimmock received 18 months imprisonment and was disqualified from being a company director for 2 years.

Cengiz Kemal received an 8 month prison sentence which was suspended for two years with an order to undertake 200 hours of unpaid work.  He was also disqualified from being a company director for 2 years.

The defendants will also now face proceedings to confiscate the assets they have obtained from their criminal conduct.

Panayiotis Christofi, 30, and Craig Brannigan, 48, set up a company trading under the name of ‘Motorshop’ - based in Barnet - in 2006.

In late 2007, Trading Standards Officers began receiving complaints about the company.   The complainants - who were people advertising their cars and other vehicles for sale in local newspapers and car magazines – came from across the UK and gave almost identical accounts.  They claimed to have been ‘cold called’ by a telesales person of the company.  In a way that suggested the salesperson was checking a database, they were told, for example, that there were ‘four people’ in their area wanting to buy a vehicle like theirs.  The sellers were told that they would receive their full asking price, and that as the buyers had arranged finance from which they made money, they would receive an incentive such as all but £10 of the fee (£49.99, £79.99 or £99.99) back or a voucher for a weekend break. 

None of the customers who contacted trading standards said they had received any interest from perspective buyers after paying the fee.  Many said that they had complained to the company but to no avail.  Customers were repeatedly and incorrectly told that their right to cancel within 7 days didn’t apply as the work had started immediately.

In January 2008, trading standards officers began receiving almost identical complaints about a company trading under the name of ‘Motormarket’ based in Coventry.  Christofi and Brannigan were the directors of this company although it was being run by Sam Dimmock, 31.  He later became a director of the company.

Despite numerous attempts by Trading Standards Officers to resolve complaints and advise the companies, the complaints kept coming.  By December 2008, several hundred people had contacted Consumer Direct with concerns about their activities.   In November 2008, Christofi assisted Cengiz Kemal, 31, to set up a third business known as ‘Motorplace’ based in Leicester.

On 9th December 2008, officers from the Yorkshire & Humber Scambusters team, with the assistance of other Scambusters teams, trading standards officers and the Metropolitan police executed a warrant at the Motorshop offices.  Computers and business documents, including sales records were seized.  On the 7th January 2009 a similar operation was mounted at the Motormarket offices in Coventry – this time with the assistance of West Midlands Police.  

Officers described seeing staff at desks with only a telephone and ‘highlighted’ advertisements in magazines like Autotrader in front of them.  Significantly, there were no computer terminals and therefore telesales staff could not have access to a vehicle database.  The defendants later admitted that the computer system which housed the limited database could not match buyers and sellers by location.  During the course of the investigation, officers also conducted a survey of hundreds of random customers.   They were unable to find a single person who had successfully sold their car through these companies.  Former employees also gave evidence about the practices of the company which had forced them to leave.

Three of the four defendants, Christofi, Brannigan and Dimmock, were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud their customers.  A short way into the trial, Mr Christofi pleaded guilty to breaching Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations by making false claims to his customers.  The remaining defendants continued to plead their innocence to these charges, but the jury returned guilty verdicts.  The jury also found all of the defendants guilty of transferring criminal property contrary to the Proceeds of Crime Act. 

Edward Davey, Minister for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs said: “Fraudsters who prey on the vulnerable and con honest people out of their hard earned money are a disgrace and will not be tolerated. These illegal scams cost people in the UK millions of pounds each year and give honest traders a bad name. Consumers deserve a fair deal - not to be ripped off by bogus sellers.

“The sentences handed down today should serve as a warning to other conmen that they will be caught and brought to justice”

“I applaud the fantastic work the Scambusters teams are doing up and down the country to shut these crooks down. And I’m delighted that our continued funding will allow the teams to bring more of them to book.”

Matt Boxall, speaking on behalf of the Yorkshire & Humber Scambusters team said: ‘‘These people exploited the false hope they had given their victims.  It wasn’t a particularly complicated scam, a pack of lies were told to persuade as many people as they could to fork out.   Many of the victims told us that they were already in financial difficulty – hence they were selling up.’’

‘’The result means that the defendants will pay for the upset caused to their thousands of victims and others.  Through the confiscation process we will set about clawing back the money they made. ’’

‘‘This case is also pay back for the ongoing investment in regional scambuster teams’’

‘’If you have been a victim of these particular companies we would like to hear from you via Consumer Direct on 08454 040506.’

Notes to editors:

1.         The Yorkshire & the Humber Trading Standards Group Scambuster team are a specialist trading standards service operated by City of York Council of behalf of the 11 trading standards services in the Yorkshire and the Humber region. The team is tasked with uncovering scams and rogue trading practices that operate across local authority boundaries.  There are 8 Scambuster teams operating throughout the UK. Further details are available from the following link
http://berr.gov.uk/policies/consumer-issues/enforcement-of-consumer-law/trading-standards/scambuster-teams

2.         This is one of a number of scams the Yorkshire & the Humber team, funded by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, have uncovered since it was established in 2008.

For further information please contact Matt Boxall, of the Yorkshire & the  Humber Trading Standards Group Scambuster team, on 01904 551528