£200m fake train ticket scam: The Mirrorman put season pass bought on dark web to the test at Britain’s busiest station
No one has a clue that Mirrorman Alan Selby is the ‘cheat in the seat’ travelling 30 miles and back for a fraction of the true cost.
Waved through at Britain’s busiest station with no difficulty, I board the train and forge on with my journey.
No one has a clue that I’m the cheat in the seat. The man with a fake season ticket that is contributing to a £200million drain on honest rail users.
I’ve passed the first hurdle by fooling barrier staff highly trained to spot fakes.
After a few minutes, an on-board conductor performs a spot check and also passes the ticket with a cheery “Have a safe journey”.
I travel 30 miles, then make the return trip using the bogus pass I bought on the internet for a fraction of the real cost.
At no point was I challenged on the validity of the ticket which, to all but the expert eye, looks utterly genuine.
Of course, I had bought a separate, legitimate and paid-for ticket for each leg of the journey.
I took the journey after the Sunday Mirror was alerted to commuters across Britain turning to fake tickets.
Campaigners last night warned the swindle continues to push up already soaring prices for honest passengers.
Our team found fakes for sale on the so-called “dark web” – a shadowy corner of the internet which cannot be searched via mainstream browsers like Google.
Within seconds a search brought up travel cards that could be used in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle – or any other stretch of track in the country, come to that.
We paid £130 – less than a third of the £413.20 retail price – for a month-long ticket which arrived via Royal Mail days later.
My journey started at London’s Waterloo station, where Great Western Railway staff waved the fake ticket through without a second glance.
On board, an inspector politely gave it the once-over. I went through a second set of barriers when disembarking at Guildford, Surrey – where yet another member of staff failed to rumble me.
The same happened on the way back to the capital, proving just how difficult it is for rail staff to spot a fake when thousands and thousands of commuters are flooding through.
The metallic strip on our ticket did not work, but because they go on the blink so often station staff routinely let people through.
The black market vendor who sold the ticket has hundreds of reviews on his site and boasts of prices as low as 15 per cent of a legitimate ticket’s face value.
The outfit claims to be based in the UK, but the only clue to the specific location was a Manchester postmark on the envelope for our ticket.
Rail fraud investigator Mike Keeber, who inspected our fake, said: “I must say it’s very good – far better than many I’ve seen.
“It’s good quality, on old ticket stock and the price is correct. There are two slight anomalies on the ticket – ones that you would not necessarily pick up unless you really went to town on it.”
He said it was possible the forgers had bought blank tickets off eBay, or obtained them through a rail employee.
Gangs use sophisticated printers and he admitted finding fakes was like “looking for a needle in a haystack” because investigators lacked resources.
He added: “In most cases the individuals caught are nothing to do with the producers of the tickets. It is difficult to trace the gangs back but there is a lot of intelligence on these criminals.
It is a slow process. Larger gangs are operating from overseas and shipping products into the UK. They tend to be very organised.
“It is the nature of the economy that there will always be someone who believes they can get away with it.”
Our investigation comes after train users were last month stung by news of the biggest price rises for five years.
Increases could hit 3.6 per cent – which means some will see the price of their season tickets jump hundreds of pounds. Insiders said fare dodgers see their crime as “victimless”.
But the Rail Delivery Group, an association of rail firms, said: “Fare dodgers deprive the railway of about £200million every year, money which could otherwise be spent investing to improve the railway for communities, passengers and the nation’s economy.
“Train companies are working together with the British Transport Police to crack down on fraud, carrying out regular inspections so that people who buy the correct ticket don’t end up subsidising those who buy them from illegal websites.”
For our probe, we used an encrypted email service to ask for a quote.
We were told prices started at £130 for a one-month ticket, £352 for three months and £603 for six.
A representative called Paul wrote: “We work only with bitcoin , yes. You can place an order through the marketplace or directly with us via email, it’s up to you. Let us know how you would like to proceed.”
One customer who made purchases totalling nearly £1,000 had left this review: “Great service! I have been a customer with ******* on **** and now here. Even if an issue occurs with your order they are supportive and swift in response to rectify any issues.”
The ticket scam can be costly if you are caught, though. Individuals charged with low-scale fraud face a likely fine and up to a year in jail.
More serious offences carry up to 10 years in jail and a £5,000 fine.
A fake ticket operation that had been in operation for seven years was busted a few months ago in Bournemouth, Dorset.
Ringleader James Jennings, a 51-year-old taxi driver, got three years in jail. Jennings, who used to work for South West Trains, offered open-ended railway tickets to order, using blanks and a printer.
DI Jeremy Banks, from the British Transport Police’s Cyber Crime Unit, said after the case: “It is unacceptable when a greedy minority steal from legitimate companies by selling and buying fraudulent rail tickets, which ultimately increases the costs of rail fares for honest passengers.”
The dark web on which dodgy traders flourish can only be accessed using special software, making it near-impossible for others to spot illegal activity.
As well as train tickets, willing punters can buy passports, driving licences, credit card details and fireworks.
Fake social media followers can be purchased, as can lock picks, Viagra and antibiotics.
There is a sinister side too. Rohypnol, the date-rape drug, can be ordered for delivery without leaving a paper trail.