Industry News

Derby gang of four jailed over massive TV box swindle

Anthony Ginnivan, Melvyn Howard, and Amber Ahmed

FOUR men have been jailed for their parts in a sophisticated international scam to defraud TV giant Virgin Media of up to £32 million.

The fraud involved distributing set-top boxes which allowed customers to pick up Virgin Media television channels without paying a subscription.

The Derby gang operated from a house in Littleover, where they received programmes through a legitimate subscription.

Derby Crown Court was told that Paul Hartrick, 51, was the head of the city branch of the conspiracy.

He imported a type of set-top box from Korea that could be modified to receive the Virgin Media channels without a subscription.

He sold these boxes to customers for a one-off payment of up to £120, the court was told.

He and his accomplices – Melvin Howard, Anthony Ginnivan and Amber Ahmed – all pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the company.

Ginnivan, 48, owned the house in Fernwood Crescent, Littleover, and rented a room, which was used for the scam, to Howard, 62.

Prosecutor Martin Hurst told the court that this bedroom was the “nerve centre” of the operation.

Inside the room, Ginnivan and Howard, under the instruction of Hartrick, had set up 44 set-top boxes, connected to the Virgin Media network through 13 legitimate subscriptions, for which they paid.

The fourth fraudster, Ahmed, was responsible for ordering the legitimate subscriptions, called Smartcards, from Virgin Media.

Police estimated that ringleader Hartrick would have made more than £100,000 from selling the set-top boxes.

And Virgin Media said the scam could have cost the company up to £32 million in lost revenue from subscription charges – both from the activities of the Derby gang and the operation in Hong Kong.

Hartrick, of Sharpe Street, Tamworth, was jailed for five years yesterday.

Howard, of Stoney Lane, Spondon, was jailed for two years and ten months, Ginnivan received two years and one month and Ahmed, of Dover Street, Derby, was sent to prison for a year.

Ahmed was also given an extra six months for a separate fraud offence.

Detective Constable Adam Govan, investigating officer in the case, said: “This was a sophisticated fraud, taking place on an international scale.

“The jailing of these four men sends out a message that people who involve themselves in this kind of crime can be tracked down and will be brought to justice.

“This may be seen as a faceless crime but in the end it is Virgin Media customers who lose out because the company has to raise prices to make up for its losses.”

The men were caught after Virgin Media became aware that there was a large-scale fraud happening in the UK.

The company said it came to light through “intelligence” and it became apparent that some people were viewing the channels without having paid a subscription.

The firm set up its own Starview set-top boxes in homes across the UK to try to pick up the illegal signals.

Then it switched off sections of its Virgin Media output in sequence to find out the source of the illegal operation. Eventually, experts pinpointed where the signals were being decoded to be the house in Littleover and contacted the police. The men were arrested and the full scale of the fraud came to light.

A fifth man, Korean national Jeong Woo You, was also arrested and charged with the fraud. He was released on bail and then absconded.

Sentencing the four, Judge Michael Fowler said: “Hartrick, you are the senior of the defendants in front of me. You are clearly, in commercial terms, management.

“You had direct benefit through your business from the sale of the boxes. You were directly involved in setting up the operation.

“The benefit you received is in dispute but there is no dispute that it is in excess of £100,000. The benefit you expected to be achieved by fraud was far more, no doubt.

“In addition, you recruited others to become involved with this fraud.”

He said the loss to Virgin Media was “extremely difficult” to estimate but that he was satisfied it ran into millions of pounds.

Speaking for Hartrick, Dean Kershaw said his client had always maintained he had sold the boxes for £65 each and had not sold more than 1,500.

Hartrick said he was not the person who had physically set up the operation in Littleover but accepted he had recruited Howard, who then recruited others, said Mr Kershaw.

Dean Bower, for Howard, accepted he had brought Ginnivan and Howard into the scam but did not oversee them. “He received very little reward for his role,” said Mr Bower.

The court heard that Ginnivan was the caretaker for the premises and Ahmed was at the bottom level of the small gang.

How the scam works

VIRGIN Media supplies a digital cable TV service to subscribers in the UK.

In order to receive the service, customers are given a set-top box and a smartcard, which determines the channels that can be watched – depending on what has been paid for.

The TV signal sent to the boxes is scrambled but the card, together with the box, decodes these signals and gives a clear picture and sound.

The Littleover set-up broadcasted signals to users who had special set-top boxes that they had bought with one-off payments. The users had no smart cards and had not paid for the service.

These boxes were manufactured in Korea by company Irumtek, which is suspected to be the main beneficiary of the fraud.

Virgin Media estimated that up to 22,000 people were receiving free channels through this operation but defendant Jeong Woo You told police he believed there were up to 12,000 customers.

Ringleader Paul Hartrick, who imported the Starview set-top boxes, maintained in his plea that he had sold no more than 1,500 of them.

Irumtek also sent a software engineer over to the Littleover property to spend weeks working on the set-top boxes and improving the system.

The fraudulent operation ran between February 2010 and February last year.


39 investigated in Italy for pay-TV piracy

Thirty-nine people are under investigation for computer fraud and violations of copyright law, following an operation to combat piracy against Italian pay-TV operators Mediaset Premium and Sky Italia, as well as conditional access provider Nagravision, performed by the Communications Police.


The suspects, 28 of them residents in the Lazio region, 7 in Sicily, 3 in Piedmont, and one in Emilia Romagna, are all owners of businesses. In practice, the defendants used the card-sharing system and software, to distribute, via the Internet, the access codes enabling illegal viewing of Mediaset Premium and Sky Italia by interested Internet users who, in turn, paid directly to the pirates a lower subscription than the legitimate license fees.

Certain web sites offered “parallel” pay-TV packages, marketing software specifically configured to receive the decryption keys from the “pirate” server. Alternatively, the pirates provided decoders already configured for the reception of conditional access programs, such as sports and HD movies, for a pre-set and variable time period.

Besides seizing computer equipment and documents, the investigation has also helped the police to reconstruct the pieces of a pyramid selling scheme with international connections especially in Switzerland and Germany.





Fraudsters Scam Virgin Media

By Chris Forrester

Two Lancashire men who sold illegal Virgin Media set-top boxes have been told they must pay up £200,000 each, or spend longer in jail.

Imran Khansia, 30, and Rafiq Dudhwala, 27, from the northwest England town of Blackburn, were part of a four-man gang given jail sentences that totalled just under 14 years. The boxes allowed customers to view channels without paying a monthly fee.

John White, head of group security at Virgin Media, said: “Purchasing unlawful equipment such as this only serves to fund organised crime and we will continue to investigate and prosecute individuals and groups connected with this type of fraud.”

In July, three Essex men – Munaf Ahmed Zinga, Mukandun Pillai and Salim Patel – were sentenced to a total of 15 years in prison for a similar crime.

New website for the IPR Center

National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) website:

WASHINGTON – How would you feel if you poured your life into creating a new product, making a movie, or designing a software program only to learn that someone else was pocketing the profits by selling an illegal knockoff? And what if you discovered your stolen invention was poorly built, putting people’s health and safety in danger?

It happens…all too often. The theft of so-called intellectual property – creative expressions like trade secrets, proprietary products and parts, literature, music and films – comes at a high price. In addition to the very real impact on the rightful owners, it costs legitimate businesses billions of dollars in lost revenue, drives up consumer prices, robs the United States and global economies of vital jobs and tax revenues, reduces product safety, and sometimes even puts lives at risk.

To help spread the word about its work and gather tips and information, the IPR Center has just launched a new standalone website at The site includes an overview of the center, news releases, a photo/video gallery, published reports in an easy-to-use document viewer, and an electronic form for the general public, industry and trade associations, law enforcement, and government agencies to report intellectual property rights violations.

The IPR Center is one of the U.S. government’s key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. The IPR Center is led by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and includes partners from 19 agencies: HSI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, FBI, Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, Patent and Trademark Office, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Army Criminal Investigative Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit, General Services Administration’s Office of Inspector General, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Defense Logistics Agency’s Office of the Inspector General, Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Department of State’s Office of International Intellectual Property Enforcement, National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Office of Inspector General, INTERPOL, Government of Mexico’s Tax Administration Service and Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

As a task force, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions, and conduct investigations related to IP theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public’s health and safety, the U.S. economy and the war fighters.



Three jailed for set-top box fraud

Three men who took part in a massive fraud by selling set-top boxes which allowed people unlawful free access to Virgin Media’s cable television channels have been jailed for a total of 15 years.

The men manufactured, imported and supplied more than 400,000 set-top boxes across the UK during a three-and-a-half year operation, a jury at Snaresbrook Crown Court was told.

The scam, described as the largest commercial fraud to have been prosecuted in the UK, is thought to have cost Virgin Media some £144 million a year.

The set-top boxes were sold between January 2005 and November 2008 to suppliers and dealers across the UK and Northern Ireland.

Although it was unlawful to use the boxes, consumers were tricked into spending hundreds of pounds on the devices because they gave access to Virgin Media’s cable television services without subscription.

A Virgin Media spokesman said the company’s counter-measures regularly disabled unofficial boxes while the roll-out of new encryption technology across the cable network meant that all such set-top boxes were now useless.

Virgin Media launched a private prosecution following a large-scale joint operation with the Metropolitan Police at Redbridge, Essex, and New Scotland Yard.

Munaf Ahmed Zinga, 40, from Plaistow, Essex, who traded the Eurovox-branded set-top boxes through his business Rayyonics Ltd, got an eight-year sentence. His assistant, Mukandun Pillai, 39, from Hainault, was jailed for six years. The jury convicted them of conspiracy to defraud.

The third man, Salim Patel, from Plaistow, was jailed for 12 months. He had earlier pleaded guilty to his part in the conspiracy by working as a delivery driver for the company, transporting the set-top boxes to suppliers and collecting cash in return.

Judge Inigo Bing said when he sentenced the men last week: “As the full programme of TV services can be expensive, the defendant’s product had great appeal to those members of the public who had less than exemplary scruples. The potential market for free TV was enormous.”