Sky TV bills used to catch benefits cheats

satellite dishesLynne Cameron/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Convictions against benefit cheats have risen 40% in the last two years - with almost 10,000 people convicted in the last tax year. Ministers have said that people will be made to pay back the money they have cheated from taxpayers. So why has there been such a marked increase?

A new report says that investigators have a set of powerful new tools - which have made a major difference.
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New powers

A report in the Daily Mail, revealed that the reason for the rise was partly that new powers have been granted to investigators - among the most powerful has been the power to access bank account records, and do credit reference checks to see if someone is earning at the same time as receiving benefits.

The credit reference agencies were brought into the fold in December, after a successful pilot protected more than £16 million of anticipated losses in tax credits. Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke, said at the time: "Working with Experian will allow HMRC to escalate the fight against tax credit fraudsters, helping to ensure that they are caught and punished." And it seems to be the case.
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The authorities can also use Sky TV bills. This lets them, for example, see if a woman who claims to be living alone with her children has a Sky Sports package - in the name of her live-in partner.

Convictions

The newspaper said that the new powers have led to 9,861 benefit cheats being convicted in the last tax year, and another 7,000 receiving penalties. Meanwhile, 16,000 have been cautioned.

Since May this year the Welfare Reform Act means that the authorities have also had the power to fine benefit cheats up to £2,000 (with a minimum of £350), without having to take them to court. The measure will make it more cost-effective to pursue and punish more cheats.

The Department of Work and Pensions said yesterday that money would be clawed back from people who were claiming money they were not entitled to. Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud said:"We are getting tougher and no one will escape justice with a mere slap on the wrists."

He added: "Benefit fraud is a crime and we are committed to stamping it out. We will catch and punish those who abuse the system and prevent fraud from entering in the first place. Alongside this work at the frontline, we are bringing in the Universal Credit which will simplify and automate the benefits system. This will make it much easier to catch people who make false claims."

20 PHOTOS
HMRC's most wanted tax fugitives
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Sky TV bills used to catch benefits cheats

Name: Yehuda Cohen

Age: 35

Nationality: Israel

Court where warrant was issued: Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey)

Country believed to be in: Israel

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £800,000
Biography: For a number of years Yehuda Cohen ran two companies with the intention to defraud HMRC by committing VAT fraud worth approximately £800,000. In March 2011 Cohen was arrested at London Heathrow and later bailed but failed to return to court and is still on the run.
People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: Timur Mehmet

Age: 39

Nationality: UK

Region: London

Court where warrant was issued: Northampton Crown Court

Country believed to be in: Cyprus

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £25 million

Biography: Timur Mehmet is wanted for his role in a large-scale VAT fraud worth about £25 million. Mehmet absconded pre-trial in January 2008, but was found guilty in absence and sentenced to eight years.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: Emma Elizabeth Tazey

Age: 38

Nationality: UK

Court where warrant was issued: Maidstone Crown Court

Country believed to be in: USA

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £15 million

Biography: Tazey is wanted in connection with Gordon Arthur, another on the Most Wanted list. In March 1999 UK Customs detected 7 million illegally imported cigarettes with a duty and VAT value £1.16 million. A further 21 seizures of alcohol and tobacco were identified which can be attributed to Arthur, with a duty value exceeding £5.5 million and a revenue loss nearer £15 million. In February 2000 Tazey broke her bail conditions and absconded; a warrant for her arrest was issued.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: Sahil Jain

Age: 30

Nationality: India

Court where warrant was issued: Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey)

Country believed to be in: UK

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £328,000

Biography: Jain was arrested in connection with VAT fraud of about £328,000. He failed to appear at the Central Criminal Court and a warrant was issued for his arrest on 8 June 2012.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: Rory Martin McGann

Age: 43

Nationality: EIRE

Court where warrant was issued: Belfast Crown Court

Country believed to be in: Ireland

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £902,000

Biography: Rory McGann is wanted for VAT offences amounting to over £902,000. McGann was arrested in Ireland and appeared in court in November 2008. He received bail to reappear in December 2009 and never returned.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: Olutayo Owolabi

Age: 40

Nationality: UK

Court where warrant was issued: Wood Green Crown Court

Country believed to be in: UK

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £1 million

Biography: Olutayo Owolabi is still at large for 27 offences relating to tax credits and money laundering. In January 2010 Owalabi was convicted in absence and sentenced to nine months.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: Malcolm McGregor McGowan

Age: 60

Nationality: UK

Court where warrant was issued: Sheffield Crown Court

Country believed to be in: Spain

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £16 million

Biography: Between November 1999 and March 2000, Malcolm McGowan was involved in illegally importing more than 56,000 cigarettes, which in today’s market has a street value of more than £16 million. Malcolm and others went on trail in September 2001 where he pleaded not guilty, but before the trial ended McGowan fled abroad. In December 2011 McGowan was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to four years imprisonment. He was last believed to have been seen in Spain.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: Leigang Liang

Age: 38

Nationality: China

Court where warrant was issued: Lewes Crown Court

Country believed to be in: UK

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £2.6 million

Biography: In October 2010 HMRC and UKBA worked together to intercept 650 kilos of harmful counterfeit tobacco, 300,000 cigarettes and five tonnes of hand rolling tobacco imported illegally from China. Leigang Liang was the key player in this operation and his gang was arrested, tried and unanimously found guilty. Liang fled the court before the jury found him guilty. He was sentenced in absence to seven years.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: Mohamed Sami Kaak

Age: 45

Nationality: UK/Tunisia

Court where warrant was issued: Isleworth Crown Court

Country believed to be in: Tunisia

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £822,000

Biography: Between March 2005 and September 2006, Mohamed Sami Kaak smuggled nearly 4 million cigarettes into the UK, evading an estimated £822,000 in duty. Kaak was arrested and charged with 12 counts of conspiracy to fraudulently evade Customs duty. He failed to appear in court in June 2008 so a warrant was raised for his arrest. Kaak was tried in absence where he received a four year sentence.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: John Nugent

Age: 53

Nationality: UK/EIRE

Court where warrant was issued: Manchester Crown Court

Country believed to be in: USA

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £22 million

Biography: John Nugent fraudulently claimed more than £22 million in duty and VAT reclaims. Nugent was arrested and bailed, but he failed to appear in court and fled abroad. He is suspected to be in the US.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: Vladimir Jeriomin

Age: 34

Nationality: Ukraine

Court where warrant was issued: Liverpool Crown Court

Country believed to be in: Russia / Lithuania

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £4.8 million

Biography: Jeriomin was a member of an organised crime group that defrauded the public purse by making fraudulent claims for Income Tax Self Assessment repayments. The estimated loss of public money is thought to be £2 million. A warrant was issued for the arrest of Jeriomin after he failed to surrender.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: Wayne Joseph Hardy

Age: 49

Nationality: UK

Court where warrant was issued: Ipswich Crown Court

Country believed to be in: South Africa

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £1.9 million

Biography: Wayne Hardy and others conspired to cheat the public purse through tax fraud on tobacco products. Hardy assisted in sourcing a tobacco manufacturing and rolling machine and smuggling almost 16 tones of raw leaf tobacco into the UK. Hardy absconded before trail but was found guilty in absence and received a three-year sentence in October 2011.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: Dimitri Gaskov

Age: 27

Nationality: Estonia

Court where warrant was issued: Ipswich Crown Court

Country believed to be in: Estonia

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £197,000

Biography: Gaskov was part of a gang which concealed and smuggled an estimated three million cigarettes into the UK using desk top computers. After a long investigation Gaskov fled before the trial.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: Hussain Asad Chohan

Age: 44

Nationality: UK/Pakistan

Court where warrant was issued: Birmingham Crown Court

Country believed to be in: Dubai

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £200 million

Biography: Smuggler and fraudster Hussain Chohan is wanted after failing to appear in court for his part in an estimated £200 million fraud. Among other offences, Chohan imported 2.25 tonnes of tobacco worth £750,000 in duty alone. Chohan was tried in absence and found guilty. He received a total of 11 years in prison for smuggling and fraud offences and failing to appear in court. Along with his sentence Chohan has also been served with a £33 million confiscation order.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: Zafar Baidar Chisthi

Age: 33

Nationality: UK

Court where warrant was issued: Kingston on Thames Crown Court

Country believed to be in: Pakistan

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £150 million

Biography: Zafar Chisthi is wanted for his part in a large scale VAT fraud worth around £150 million. Chisthi failed to appear in court after being released on bail and was tried in absence and found guilty. He was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for conspiracy to defraud the public purse and one year for perverting the course of justice.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: Cesare Selvini

Age: 52

Nationality: Switzerland

Court where warrant was issued: Dover Magistrates Court

Country believed to be in: Switzerland

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £600,000

Bio: Cesare Selvini is wanted for concealing and smuggling platinum bars, thought to be worth around £600,000. Selvini failed to appear in court in June 2005 so a warrant was issued for his arrest.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: Gordon Arthur

Age: 60

Nationality: UK

Court where warrant was issued: Maidstone Crown Court

Country believed to be in: USA

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £15 million

Biography: In March 1999 UK Customs detected seven million illegally imported cigarettes with a duty and VAT value of over £1.1 million. A further 21 seizures of alcohol and tobacco were identified which can be attributed to Arthur with a duty value exceeding £5.5 million and a revenue loss nearer £15 million. In February 2000 Gordon Arthur broke his bail conditions and absconded; a warrant for his arrest was issued in June 2002.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: Nasser Ahmed

Age: 40

Nationality: UK

Court where warrant was issued: Bristol Crown Court

Country believed to be in: Pakistan / Dubai

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £156 million

Biography: Nasser Ahmed is wanted for his role in a large scale VAT fraud in the region of £156 million. Ahmed fled from court prior to verdict in February 2005. He was sentenced to six years in his absence in March 2005 and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: Adam Umerji aka Shafiq Patel

Age: 34

Nationality: UK

Court where warrant was issued: Liverpool Crown Court

Country believed to be in: Dubai

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £64 million

Biography: Adam Umerji is a wanted fraudster who stole an estimated £64 million from the UK tax payer. Umerji was tried in absence where he received a 12 year sentence for VAT fraud and five years for money laundering offences.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Name: Darsim Abdullah

Age: 42

Nationality: Iraq

Court where warrant was issued: Guildford Crown Court

Country believed to be in: Iraq

Estimated cost to taxpayer: £24 million

Biography: Darsim Abdullah was part of a 12 man crime group that laundered between £1 million and £4 million a month from the proceeds of crime. Eleven members of the group either were found or pleaded guilty to the offence but Darsim absconded before sentencing.

People can report leads on the Most Wanted fugitives via HMRC’s Customs, Excise and VAT fraud reporting hotline on 0800 595 000, by email or post bit.ly/PoT0Wx, or through the Crimestoppers website www.crimestoppers-uk.org

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Concerns?

Clearly there have been major strides in the fight against benefit cheats. However, there are those who are raising concerns: whether these new powers have overtones of Big Brother watching your every step.

So what do you think? Do you think the government should be banned from prying into your personal arrangements, or with an estimated £125 million lost each year through benefit fraud, do you think that these intrusions into peoples financial life are worth it if the criminals are caught? Let us know in the comments.

5 PHOTOS
Tax tricks to improve your wealth
See Gallery
Sky TV bills used to catch benefits cheats

If you wear a uniform of any kind to work and have to wash, repair or replace it yourself, you may be able to reclaim tax paid over the last four years. For some people, this could mean a windfall worth hundreds of pounds

The interest you receive on savings accounts (with the exception of cash Isas) is automatically taxed at a rate of 20%.

Higher-rate taxpayers therefore tend to owe money on the interest they are paid throughout the year. If, however, you are on a low income or not earning at all, you should be able to claim all or some of the tax deducted back

You can apply for a refund of vehicle tax if you are the current registered keeper or were the last registered keeper of your vehicle that no longer needs a tax disc

If you pay tax on a company, personal or State Pension through PAYE (the system employers use to deduct tax from your wages), you may well end up overpaying

There is a limit to the amount you need to pay in NI, whether or not you work for an employer.

Instances in which you may find that you have overpaid include if you work two or more jobs and earn more than £817 a week and if you move from self-employment to employment, but continue to pay Class 2 National Insurance contributions

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