SENTENCES totalling more than 20 years were today imposed on four members of a Southampton-based gang who stole more than 3,000 identities in an attempt to defraud £2.3million in income tax repayments.

The gang, all from Eastern Europe, were involved in a plan to rip off Revenue & Customs into paying out the cash by submitting false self assessment tax repayment forms with stolen and hijacked identities.

Southampton Crown Court heard how they conned personal details from migrants, mostly builders and constructions workers from East Europe who answered job adverts. They also hacked into the data base of accountants to gain information of legitimate taxpayers.

The scam lasted for about five years until 2011 with the chance arrest of one conspirator for shoplifting. In his flat police discovered a fraud factory with more than 40 foreign identity documents and hundreds of HMRC forms in different names.

The ringleader, Lyubomyr Sytaiylo, 39, was jailed for seven and a half years and the second in command Ruslanas Bobrovas, 37, received six yand a half years.

A third man, Besik Zveiba, 42, was jailed for four and a half years, and a fourth Kardo Anderson, 26, got four years.

They had either pleaded guilty or were found guilty to conspiring to cheat the public revenue.

Anderson also admitted possessing false identity documents and possessing bank cards for use in fraud.

Passing sentence, Judge Peter Henry described the conspirary as outrageous.

After an identity was chosen, the fraudsters would fly friends and acquaintances from Lithuania into the UK to open bank accounts and create taxpayer identities in hijacked names.

When their job was done these identity mules were allowed to return home.

The gang attempted to claim at least £2 million from HMRC, but over £1.3 million was withheld when officers checking repayment claims became suspicious.

The true extent of the fraud and number of identities stolen may never be known, but it is estimated that the gang carried out at least 1,300 separate attempted fraudulent attacks on HMRC.

Zoe Ellerbeck, HMRC Assistant Director Criminal Investigation, said:

“This was a blatant, highly-organised attack to defraud the UK tax system of vast sums of money using the stolen identities of unsuspecting people. During our four-year investigation we discovered the gang hijacked at least 3,000 different identities in an attempt to claim money they weren’t entitled to.

“HMRC officers, working closely with local police forces, were able to stop over £1.3 million claimed by the fraudsters being paid out. Tackling organised crime is a priority for us and we ask anyone with information about people involved in tax fraud to contact the Tax Evasion Hotline on 0800 788 887.”