How “Britain’s greatest fraudster” Tony Sales turned his back on crime – Published in “i”

Tony Sales was ‘Britain’s greatest fraudster’. Now he helps all of us by finding security flaws. By Etan Smallman


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Tony Sales started out, aged seven, by emptying fruit machines and taking money for fake sponsored runs. It was later that he found his gold mine: data.

He was labelled “Britain’s Greatest Fraudster” for “clearing out entire shopping centres and high streets” using other people’s identities and making off with more than £30m.

But after a 12-month stretch in jail for passport forgery, Sales has carved out a new role for himself as the ultimate poacher-turnedgamekeeper, and could well lay claim to another accolade: Britain’s greatest fraud-buster.

As head of an anti-crime consultancy, the 46-year-old now helps global financial firms fend off cyber crooks and estimates he has saved them hundreds of millions, far more than he ever stole himself. He tests firms’ online and physical security systems to the breaking point before presenting their flaws to dumbstruck executives.

When Sales, fresh out of jail, arrived at the Home Office for an interview, he breezed through security with a false ID using what he calls a “moody” passport, before telling the “fuming” top civil servant: “I could be anybody – a terrorist.”

The “southerner with more front than Southend” also pitched up to a meeting at B&Q with one of the company’s orange staff aprons. Its head of loss knew exactly what this would grant him inside a store – access to restricted areas – and showed he knew his stuff. Sales was offered a contract on the spot.

He is scathing about many companies’ cavalier attitude to online attacks, especially those that respond by quietly paying off the criminals.

“Businesses are paying ransoms like never before and sweeping it under the carpet,” he tells i. “We as consumers cannot allow that to happen because the stuff that they are sweeping under the carpet is our information that is leaked into ‘dark web’ forums and gets sold for millions. Then look at the stress that puts on victims once identities are stolen: now your house is mortgaged and you’ve got bills piling up that you never even knew you had.”

In prison, Sales’ 10-year-old son’s tears on his first visit were enough for him to resolve he would not return to his life of crime. Last month, he marked the 10th anniversary of walking out of jail, “knowing I would never go back”.

I ask if there is anything he misses about his old life. “Why would I? Committing crime never made me happy. It just covered up the rubbish that I was feeling inside.”

But he says that the few positive interventions behind bars were treated with derision. “I did a course all about thinking first and looking at stuff from other people’s perspectives, but it got ridiculed.” Guards called their colleagues involved with the programmes the “Care Bears”.

“That’s because they talked to us like humans. So here’s the thing: because I have committed a crime, am I not a human? I never wanted to be sexually abused as a kid. I didn’t want to see my mum get beat to a pulp.

“But what I know is all of that stuff that happened to me made me want to be someone different. I went on to be someone different many times. It taught me to lie, to cheat.”

Despite now being a successful businessman running his own television company (Underworld. TV, where his job title is “head of crime”) and an author (royalties for his memoir, The Big Con, are going to help underprivileged young people), he says that some will never let him move on.

“If a judge sees fit to give me a 15-month sentence, does my judgment end after 15 months? Or do I continue to be judged for ever more?”

He adds that he fears the trauma of 2020 is fertile ground for the next generation of criminals. “Look, domestic violence, murder, drug addiction – all of these things are happening much more because of Covid.

“The whole world is totally in fear. Fear creates trauma. If every single person I’ve ever met who comes from the same criminal background as me has the same trauma, it is inevitable that the more people that get trauma, the more will go on to commit crimes.”

  • ‘The Big Con: How I Stole £30 million And Got Away With It’ (£8.99, Mirror Books) is out now


Tips: How to avoid fraud

  1. Never open links from people you don’t know – and even be cautious around links from people you do know in case they have been compromised.
  2. Never transfer funds to someone claiming to be from a bank. Your bank doesn’t have to give you your money back – it’s just like giving the wrong person cash.
  3. Get a good password manager, a program that allows you to generate secure passwords and store them safely. Passwords should be at least four words, which are easy to remember but mean nothing to anyone else and do not include anything you have shared about yourself online.
  4. When adding any “smart” gadget to your Wi-Fi network, change default passwords, and ensure software is kept up to date. This will reduce the risk of a hacker accessing that device or even your entire wireless network.
  5. If something seems too good to be true, it normally is – whether it’s a handbag that looks too cheap on Amazon or a new cryptocurrency.

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