Dark Money Investigations: Investigation

Fraudsters steal identities of UK government officials to set up companies

Bogus UK businesses have been set up using the names of officials at the Ministry of Justice and HMRC

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Martin Williams
6 April 2022, 11.46am
Companies House does not have statutory powers to verify information that it publishes.
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Kalki / Alamy Stock Photo

UK government officials have had their identities stolen by fraudsters to create bogus companies, openDemocracy can reveal.

Victims include a civil servant in the Ministry of Justice and a “corporate risk partner” who works for the tax inspector HMRC.

Their names have been used repeatedly to set up British companies, despite requests for them to be removed.

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openDemocracy is choosing not to publish their names, although they are visible on the Companies House business register.

The companies were among a tranche of new firms set up earlier this year at two service addresses in London. Between them, they are home to more than 12,000 active companies.

The flurry of unusual new incorporations, at addresses on Great Portland Street and New Drum Street, was first spotted by Companies House expert Graham Barrow and shared with openDemocracy.

Records show that the government officials had already had their identities stolen before and managed to get them removed from the list of directors on Companies House.

Despite this, fraudsters were able to use their names for a second time this year. In some cases, they also used incomplete home addresses – mixing together two different locations – so that victims would not receive updates from Companies House alerting them of the new company.

[It is] highly likely they are bogus companies being used in highly suspicious circumstances.

Graham Barrow, Companies House expert

Barrow explained that criminals often use unique naming systems to create a network of fraudulent companies. “An experienced investigator can soon spot the underlying methodology,” he told openDemocracy.

“This is made all the more straightforward where previous registrations of similar companies have already had action taken by Companies House to remove some or all personal details from the register, as this is indicative of someone having complained about their details being used without their knowledge or permission.

“In the cases being reported here, evidence of both exists, making it highly likely they are bogus companies being used in highly suspicious circumstances.”

It is illegal to use fake identities to set up British companies, but there is currently no way of preventing it. Companies House does not have any statutory powers to verify the accuracy of information that it publishes.

In fact, the first (and possibly only) person to be prosecuted for this “serious offence” was a transparency campaigner, Kevin Brewer – who had set up a company under the name of the then business secretary, Vince Cable, in a bid to highlight the problem.

MPs are due to vote on the Economic Crime Bill later this year, which would finally introduce identity checks for company directors.

It forms part of planned reforms for Companies House, giving it more powers to query information that it receives and cross-check its data with other authorities.

openDemocracy has previously reported on a litany of fake names used by fraudsters and pranksters, with apparently no attempt to stop them.

The official Companies House register has included directors called ‘Adolf Tooth Fairy Hitler’ and ‘Donald Duck’. Another former director is ‘Holy Jesus Christ’, who gives his occupation as ‘Creator’ and his country of residence as ‘Heaven’.

A Companies House spokesperson said: “We take all allegations of fraud seriously and support law enforcement investigations into the misuse of UK companies. As part of our transformation we are building capability in this area and will be developing systems to identify suspicious activity.”

openDemocracy attempted to contact the government officials whose identities have been used, but they did not respond to our request for comment. Their employers were also unable to assist.

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