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19 January 2011, 17:37 | Updated: 19 January 2011, 17:42
A Chinese man and woman face deportation after admitting a sophisticated card fraud that involved shipping cartons of baby milk back home.
Xin Shi, 29, and Jie Chen, 23, were part of a gang involved in the scam that involved buying baby milk in branches of Boots on gift cards which had been fraudulently loaded with extra credit.
The milk was then being shipped back to China where it was sold for a premium. It was in demand following the scandal in 2008 when milk formula there was contaminated with melamine.
Prosecutor Ann Evans told St Albans crown court on Tuesday that an investigation began on 24 April last year in Hatfield when police traffic officers noticed an Audi A4 car in a poor condition. It had no insurance.
She said: "This stop was the start of a police operation which discovered a large conspiracy to buy goods with counterfeit bank cards perpetrated by these two defendants and others."
Shi and Chen's then address in Endymion Mews, Hatfield was searched. "The flat contained a large amount of equipment. There were items that were used for the manufacture of counterfeit cards including embossing machines and a magnetic strip device", said Mrs Evans.
The computer seized from the flat had on it 460 foreign bank card numbers. Genuine Boots gift cards had been purchased by the gang and these had been loaded with between £200 and £250 from the foreign bank card numbers.
One receipt showed £480.35 had been spent at Boots in Welwyn Garden City, Herts on 19 April 2010 and another for £530.14 at another branch in the same town on the same day.
While on bail the two defendants were caught on CCTV on June 3.
The couple moved to Chapel Street in Luton, Beds. Chen was involved in two more frauds at branches of Boots in Norwich. She went into the London Street branch and bought four tubs of baby milk and a £100 gift card. When she went to pay with a card that did not have a chip and pin strip the manager became suspicious and telephoned for authorisation. Chen then left without returning. Then in the Castle Mall Boots in the city she and three others were arrested when they tried to buy gift cards.
Shi and Chen were seen again with two other men by police in Birkenhead when their uninsured car was stopped. Chen had spent £140 at Tesco in Liverpool on a fraudulent card.
Police went to the Chapel Street address and recovered two boxes of baby milk, large quantities of toiletries, perfume and receipts. The boxes were ready to be shipped to China.
Mrs Evans said the fraudulent bank details had been obtained from sites in Lithuania and Russia. Some of the US banks that had fake cards issued against them had confirmed they were victims of fraud but refused to confirm how much they lost.
Santander Bank lost £2,332.90, Citibank £4,730.36, Chasebank £131.63 and Chartway Federal £168.68
She said: "It was a very sophisticated operation. The bank cards produced were good enough to be used in shops."
Shi and Chen pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud between 18 April and 18 August last year. They were of good character.
Defence barrister John Traversi said the guidelines for sentence on a fraud of this size after a trial was 12 months. He said both defendants were entitled to a discount for their guilty pleas. He said Shi came to the UK on a visitor's Visa and was likely to be sent back to China by the Home Secretary.
John King, for Chen said she had not been involved in the production of the cards and had "simply gone shopping."
Judge Stephen Gullick passed a sentence of 305 days on each defendant, meaning that they will be due for immediate release because of the time they have spent on remand. He said: "This was a serious and sophisticated fraud. You had equipment to produce good counterfeit cards and it was persistent dishonesty. You will be released but whether you remain in this country is a matter for the Home Secretary and not for me."