Identity theft causes concern about safety of food

Posted by Isobel Drake on 27th June 2008

Fraudulent activity has been discovered in the UK which could be leading to the sale of unsafe food.

The Food Standards Agency and police are warning food companies to be on the alert to a fraud, which involves identity theft, that may have affected a number of food businesses across the country.

The fraudsters are alleged to have targeted small legitimate wholesale food businesses that supply meat, seafood and fruit and vegetables. The alleged offenders work by acquiring authentic letter heads of the legitimate company and changing the telephone, email and fax details. They then contact a genuine wholesaler/importer and place a food order with them. This business, after completing credit checks, agrees to supply the food; however, before the delivery is made, the driver is contacted and the location switched – usually to the roadside or a car park. The fraudsters then make off with the goods and attempt to sell them on elsewhere.

West Yorkshire Police’s Economic Crime Unit is leading the investigation into the fraud, which has affected a number of businesses in West Yorkshire as well as other firms across the country.

Detective Sergeant Peter McBay, of West Yorkshire Police’s Economic Crime Unit, advises that the criminal activity has already cost small companies a lot of money. “This fraudulent activity has cost a number of legitimate food companies many thousands of pounds and has also raised questions about the safety of the food that is stolen from the delivery vehicles,” he said. “Some of the food has cropped up for sale in locations around the country but we do not know how it has been stored in the meantime.”

Officers have now arrested seven men, aged between 19 and 44, from Dewsbury, Bradford, Wakefield and Brighton, on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering, and they have since been released on bail pending further enquiries.

Colin Houston, Deputy Head of Enforcement Support Division at the FSA, is worried about the potential impact of such scams on the food supply in the UK. “This alleged scam could be a matter of concern for consumers. If food is not stored or handled correctly it can become a breeding ground for germs and eating it could cause food poisoning,” he warned.