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  (Source: Kapersky)
Posing as a court bail official he successfully convinced prison officials via email that he was set to be released

UK courts this week heard a wild tale of the lengths that one clever criminal went to escape incarceration.  On trial this week at the Southwark Crown Court in London, England Neil Moore, 28, pled guilty to eight counts of fraud and one count of unlawful escape for his 2014 escapade.  He is set to be sentenced on April 20, but already his crime caper is capturing immense public attention.

I. Millionaire Fraud Artst Gets Nabbed by Scotland Yard

A resident of Ilford, a suburb of East London, Moore was caught after elaborate phone fraud plot in which he posed as multiple male and/or female fraud prevention department officials from Barclays PLC (LON:BARC) (UK), Lloyds Banking Group PLC (LON:LLOY) (UK), the Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc (LON:RBS), Banco Santander, S.A. (BME:SAN) (Spain), and Bank of America Corp. (BAC).

The UK's Telegraph newspaper reports:

After carefully researching the firms and banks he would convince his targets into handing over bank details or transfer funds into 'safe' accounts that were under his control.  Moore's elaborate deception finally began to unravel in July 2012 when he was arrested in a hire car in central London.

UK prosecutor Ian Paton described:

Much of this defendant's fraud consisted of him on a telephone speaking with a male voice and no less effectively and persuasively with a female voice... The case is one of extraordinary criminal inventiveness, deviousness and creativity, all apparently the developed expertise of this defendant who is now aged 28.

The devious deeds netted him £1,819,000 (~$2.7M USD) before his 2012 arrest.

His female impersonations were so convincing that prosecutors initially believed his transgender partner, Kristen Moore, was participating in the fraud.  Upon further investigation, authorities concluding that it was Neil's voice, not his partners and charges against Kristen were dropped.  Neil was not so lucky.  He became a ward of the state in March 2014 when the courts remanded him to the UK's largest prison (and one of its toughest) HM (Her Majesty's) Prison Wandsworth in London, where he awaited trial in early 2014.

Wandsworth Prison
London's Wandsworth Prison is the UK's largest prison and one of its most iconic.
[Image Source: Reuters]

Among the notorious felons sent to the the prison over the years, included Bruce Richard Reynolds (organizer of "The Great Train Robbery", an audacious 1963 robbery of a Royal Mail train carrying gold), Ronald Arthur "Ronnie" Biggs (an accomplice in The Great Train Robbery), James Earl Ray (who shot and killed Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), and Charles Bronson ("the most violent prisoner in Britain").  (Biggs famously escaped from the facility in 1965.)

It also housed celebrities over the years for short stints including Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (from 1895-1897) and Peter "Pete" Doherty (2003).  It even held Julian Assange briefly in 2010, when Britain briefly considered extraditing him to Sweden where he faced questioning over sex crime accusations from two women.

II. Moore Typosquatted the Law

But the prison didn't manage to hold Moore for long.

As prosecutor Paton testified this week:

Having been remanded into custody by this court and realising the reality of what he had lent himself to and what was going to be uncovered, he promptly began adapting his skills for deceit, forgery and dishonesty and engaged them for his escape.

Using a smuggled smartphone while he was in prison he set up an email server on a purchased domain name resembling that of the Southwark Crown Court.  The domain name was almost the same, but read "Southwalk" and the periods were replaced with hyphens.  The result read "southwalk-crowncourt-gsi-gov.uk", quite similar to the true domain name "southwark.crowncourt.gsi.gov.uk."

Wandsworth
While still in prison, the fraud artist sent a believable email from a fake domain name, posing as the court ordering his release.  Prison officials let him walk out of the Category B prison.
[Image Source: Alamy]

To make it more difficult to spot his suspicious registration he registered the website via a registrar in Trinidad and Tobago, a Commonwealth island nation (and former British territory) that Moore was originally from.  He also put the official address and contact details of the real court in the registration documents.

Such exploits of minor changes to a popular domain name is known as typosquatting, a special type of cybersquatting.  Ithas been put to a variety of uses ranging from gray hat -- political pranks (a la recent Ted Cruz typosquatting) or traffic manipulation -- to bonafide black hat uses -- including phishing or impersonation for the purpose of fraud.

In Moore's case he wasted no time putting his domain to use emailing the prison wardens at Wandsworth.  Impersonating the Southwark's senior court clerk, he sent what appeared to be an official bail notice from "Her Majesty's Court Service (HMCTS)."  The bail instructions ordered that Moore be released Mar. 10, 2014, without specifying a reason.

Prison officials missed the typo in the court URL and the telling hyphens.  They bought the otherwise official looking notice was real and they released Moore on his own recognizance at the given date.

III. And the Law Won

The fraud might have gone unnoticed for a very long time were it not for one unforseen detail.  Moore had never let his solicitor (the UK term for lawyer) know about his "early release."  Prosecutor Paton testified:

Mr Moore's solicitor [lawyer] had attended at HMP Wandsworth to have a conference with his client only to find that he had been 'granted bail'.

Prison officials quickly realized their error.

But Moore was still at large.  And he had just filed for a new driver's license under a false alias in order to try to flee the country.  The prosecution described:

He promptly set in process the obtaining of real, genuine documentation in order to get a further identity.  It was the first stage of securing documentation that could've secured his escape from the jurisdiction.

For unclear reasons he had a change of heart and turned himself in to his lawyer after three days after his escape was discovered.  He's been stuck in prison ever since -- and this time there was no escaping for him.  He pled guilty to the nine charges he faced this week at a hearing in Southwark court presided over by Judge Recorder David Hunt QC.  He faces years, if not decades behind bars upon sentencing later this month.

Perhaps the most ironic piece of evidence presented at the trial?  The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who pitched in during the investigation into the peculiar release (on account of Moore committing fraud against at least one U.S. bank, in addition to local banks) discovered that Moore had registered the imitation domain under the name "Chris Soole", the Scotland Yard Detective Inspector (Det Insp) who nabbed him originally.  Criminal as his actions may be, you can't say that Moore didn't have a sense of humor.

Sources: BBC News, Telegraph, NPR





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