'Gang forced me to go into phone shops and commit fraud'

Md Rahman outside Cardiff Magistrates' Court after his sentencing
-Credit: (Image: Conor Gogarty)

A fraudster tried to con shops into giving him iPhones by using real customers' details. Md Rahman served jail time for the scam and he was caught doing it again at an O2 store in Wales — but the asylum seeker claimed he was forced into the crimes by a gang he had borrowed money from.

The 35-year-old, from Bangladesh, avoided jail when he was sentenced last week at Cardiff Magistrates' Court for the most recent offence, which took place in January 2022. Prosecutor Eurgain Lloyd said: "He entered the O2 store in Caroline Street, Bridgend, and attempted to upgrade a phone contract and choose a new iPhone. He chose an iPhone 13 Pro valued at £1,055. However, suspicions were raised when he gave an incorrect postcode.

"O2 disclosed knowledge of a scam whereby someone fraudulently uses existing customers' details during the application process [for a contract upgrade and new phone], which is what was done in this case. He became flustered and staff called police. The defendant had been linked to several previous frauds relating to O2 stores."

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Ms Lloyd added that Rahman had been involved in similar activity since 2020. "He has admitted the fraud but stated he was under duress and working for two other males," she said. "However, there is no evidence of this. The defendant admits he was the one attending the shops and committing the fraud."

The court heard Rahman, of Lloyd Road in East Ham, London, had a previous conviction for fraud which also involved "going to mobile phone shops and taking out contracts using false details", and had resulted in a 10-week jail term. His record also included an offence of failing to surrender to custody, which led to a 15-week sentence.

Speaking about the most recent scam, Rahman's solicitor Eve Hayes said: "He has pleaded guilty at the first opportunity. He is a single, unemployed man. He arrived in the UK legally via a student visa from Bangladesh and came to study law at the University of London, but didn't complete the course. He tried to enrol on another course, but due to his not finishing the previous course no one would allow him to enrol. His visa was revoked but he couldn't return home due to a change in the status of his home country, Bangladesh."

Rahman made a claim for asylum which is yet to be determined. Ms Hayes said her client "got mixed up in the wrong company" after his father died in Bangladesh and his uncle claimed what had been his parents' land. "He was told he had to pay £15,000 for his mother to retain her house," Ms Hayes told the court. "He borrowed the money from a gang who demanded £5,000 in interest per year. He was working manual jobs but he couldn't pay the money back. He was initially pressurised to commit the fraud. However, he has gone with it and accepts he has committed this offence."

Md Rahman outside court
Md Rahman outside court -Credit:Conor Gogarty

The court then heard from a probation officer who had interviewed Rahman. The officer said: "When he couldn't pay back the gang's money, he was asked to deliver various packages he thought were drugs. After refusing multiple of these offers he stated he would go into the phone shops instead. He says he did this for a number of years after the gang threatened him and his family members. In terms of his previous conviction, it was the same individuals who made him do this.

"He is living in a property owned by his uncle. Due to his immigration status he does not have access to public funds so he only receives £60 a week from an immigration charity in London. He has asthma, anxiety and depression, and he has clear deficits in consequential thinking." The probation officer added that he had assessed Rahman as posing a "medium risk" of financial harm to shop owners. But he said a jail term would mean less support for Rahman and instead recommended a community order to help with his "thinking skills".

Presiding Justice Cheryl Bowen imposed a 12-month community order with 15 rehabilitation days and 200 hours of unpaid work. She told Rahman: "I will not give you a fine because of what I've heard about the lack of funds, and we think the punitive element is in the unpaid work."

After the sentencing Rahman told WalesOnline he was no longer receiving threats from the gang. "The thing is I am a victim. Since I started I had no intent to do that but due to that loan I have done it. Because I had threats from them." Asked how many phones he fraudulently obtained in total, he replied: "I don't remember." He added that he was sorry for his actions.