Wasted Talent

A young computer hacker who carried out a sophisticated and lucrative online fraud operation to feed his gambling habit has been jailed.

Alistair Peckover, 21, bought a Porsche, expensive watches and more than £30,000 worth of gold bullion using the proceeds from his complex scam. Detectives said he systematically defrauded legitimate online businesses and unsuspecting members of the public with his self-taught computer skills.

Peckover, of London Road, Hailsham, East Sussex, was jailed for 20 months at Southend Crown Court in Essex after admitting two counts of fraud. A further 50 offences were taken into consideration, Sussex Police said.

Using sophisticated computer programmes, some of which he wrote himself, "obsessive loner" Peckover remotely viewed files of other computer users without their knowledge or consent. Systems by Google and BT were misused by Peckover who breached security barriers to target online betting sites and individual email accounts.

In one scam, Sussex Police said he was able to access the email account and the password of everyone that had bought an item using BT Openzone, which enables people to access the internet wirelessly. Using this pool of personal information, Peckover then searched to see which of them had a GMail email account, then created a list of more than 500 people whose email addresses he had obtained.

Police said Peckover then placed "filters" on all the email accounts. Any email that contained key words including "sort code", "exp" or "amazon" would be deleted from the user's inbox without them knowing. The email would be automatically forwarded to him so he could use it for his own purposes. Using a computer "fake mail" programme, Peckover would take the identity of the original sender and continue correspondence with the victim.

Police said Peckover's victims stretched across the world, and with the personal information he illegally obtained, he used credit cards belonging to others to buy gifts for himself and loved ones. He also took rent money somebody had been paying their landlord via bank transfer and directed money to himself that someone had put aside to buy a car.

Detectives seized a Porsche from Peckover, as well as £40,000 in cash stuffed in two containers, a Breitling and Rolex watch, six computers, a Nintendo Wii, a Pioneer car stereo and gold bullion. Passports in three names he used were also found.

In a further scam, Peckover stole the identities of unsuspecting people to open gambling accounts with Ladbrokes and SkyBet. He had already received a suspended prison sentence in June last year for hacking into gambling sites and making a large profit for himself. But just two months later police said he was breaking the law again, by hacking into BT Openzone and gaining details of people's email accounts and their passwords. He then used one of the identities to open a gambling account. Police said he later admitted all the offences and to cheating on several other gambling sites.

Detective Constable Des Hamilton, of Sussex Police's major fraud unit, said: "This is a classic example of a self-taught, obsessive loner with real computer skills but no concern for his impact on other people. Peckover used his skills to systematically defraud legitimate online businesses and unsuspecting members of the public. We hope that this sentence will help him use his obvious talents for more honest activity. Computer-based crime is not victimless."

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