Two men have been convicted of money laundering for an organised crime network that was defrauding victims of millions of pounds through ‘smishing’.
Quin Huang, 36 of Prospect Row, Newham, pleaded guilty to two counts of money laundering at Inner London Crown Court on Friday, 21 August.
Clarke Daniel Morgan-Findlay, 26 , of Hunsdon Road, Lewisham, pleaded guilty to two counts of money laundering at the same court on Friday, 4 September.
They will both be sentenced at Inner London Crown Court on Monday, 28 September.
The convictions are part of an investigation by the Met – called Operation Tritia – into an organised crime network (OCN) responsible for ‘smishing’ fraud offences across the UK.
The method targets individuals and companies using SMS text messages to induce victims to divulge their personal bank account information.
In most cases, the victim would receive a text message appearing to be from their bank requesting a call in relation to an unusual payment.
The fraudulent message usually appears on the victim’s mobile phone in the same message thread as genuine messages received from their bank, deceiving the victim into thinking it is a legitimate message.
The number the victim is asked to call is not a genuine banking number and would put them in direct contact with the fraudsters who posed as banking staff and would take the details needed to access the victim’s bank account.
The victim’s money is then fraudulently transferred out of their account by the criminals into ‘mule’ bank accounts that have been set-up for this purpose.
The money stolen from the victims then needed to be laundered, which was Huang and Morgan-Findlay’s role.
The cash was immediately transferred out of the victims’ bank accounts into the mule bank accounts which had been set-up in the names of individuals who were recruited by Morgan-Findlay.
When the money went into the mule bank accounts, it was disposed of by Huang and Morgan-Findlay in a process known as ‘cashing out.’
Huang and Morgan-Findlay would attend high-end stores, usually in Oxford Street and Knightsbridge, London and would purchase luxury items such as designer handbags, jewellery and giftcards. They would then send these good to the OCN that had organised the smishing fraud.
Enquiries revealed that Huang and Morgan-Findlay were in regular contact with each other. Huang would ask Morgan-Findlay to obtain mule bank accounts. Morgan-Findlay would then recruit people to open mule bank accounts, promising them a percentage of the proceeds. Huang would then provide details of the mule bank accounts to the OCN.
Both Huang and Morgan-Findlay had access to the accounts and Morgan-Findlay would often make small ‘tester’ payment into them from his own bank account.
When a smishing fraud took place and money was transferred into a mule account, Huang would contact Morgan-Findlay and they would meet at an agreed location in central London to ‘cash out.’
After the laundering process was completed, Morgan-Findlay would often brag to his numerous contacts and send videos and screenshots of the mule account displaying the stolen proceeds in a bid to encourage them to open more mule accounts.
The defendants’ mobile phones had thousands of messages relating to these offences as well as photographs, screenshots and videos of mule bank accounts and bank cards.
It is not possible to establish the precise number of how many money laundering offences are evidenced on the mobile phones, but it is believed to be in the hundreds. However, the prosecution was limited to a total of 15 offences of money laundering – 12 between the dates of 11 July 2017 and 2 October 2017 and three between the dates of 28 August 2019 and 16 January 2020.
The Met commenced Operation Tritia after officers were alerted to a Facebook account, which appeared to be in use for the sole purpose of attracting money mules. Videos and photographs were posted on the account requesting various types of accounts that the Facebook user wanted. In one of the videos, the user is seen wearing a Cartier watch with a black strap. During another communication, he gave a mobile number that he could be contacted on – this came back as belonging to Morgan-Findlay.
On 11 April 2018, Morgan-Findlay was arrested by officers, who recovered the mobile phones and a number of items including a Cartier watch identical to the one in the Facebook video. He was released under investigation pending further enquiries. He was interviewed under caution on two further occasions in 2018 and 2019, where he answered no comment to all questions put to him.
On Thursday, 18 June, Huang was arrested at his home address on suspicion of money laundering. Officers seized £107,325 in cash as well as designer handbags and watches. During his interview, he initially denied any involvement before changing his story to say he had been threatened into doing it. He was charged on the same day.
Officers re-arrested Morgan-Findlay at his home address on Tuesday, 23 June on suspicion of money laundering offences. He answered no comment to all questions put to him and was charged the same day.
They were both convicted as above.
Detective Constable Ray Black, the investigating officer from the Met’s Cyber Crime Unit, said: “Huang and Morgan-Findlay made their living off the misery of others. While there’s no evidence to suggest they directly defrauded the victims themselves, they clearly played a key role in this organised crime network.
“Money laundering is often glamorised in popular media, and can be thought of as a victimless crime, however every pound involved has been taken from an innocent member of the public and it has a significant impact on their lives.”