Ringleader Behind eBay Golf Scam Jailed

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

The ringleader of a UK-based gang, that made millions by selling counterfeit golf clubs, has been jailed for more than ‘fore’ years

A gang that made millions by selling counterfeit golf clubs on eBay has been jailed after UK authorities received a tip off from a British pensioner.

Gary Bellchambers and six others ran what is reckoned to be the biggest ever such scam between June 2003 and March 2008. The majority of the counterfeit golf clubs (which were supposed to be high-end golf clubs but in reality were poor copies made in China), were distributed and sold around the world through an international network of criminals, Snaresbrook crown court in London was told.

It is thought that the gang used eBay to sell tens of thousands of items of golf equipment and more than $3m (£2m) was paid into their PayPal accounts during this period.

The gang came to the attention of UK authorities after pensioner Christine Manz complained to Havering council in east London about two fake Acushnet golf clubs she bought from Bellchambers on eBay. She and her husband were unhappy about the quality of the clubs and tried to get a refund.

Normally, the fraudsters issued immediate refunds to avoid the attention of the authorities, but they were caught out after a basic error, when Manz’s letters went unanswered because Bellchambers was away in Thailand at the time.

Bellchambers, 46, was at the leader of the scam, and recruited his sister Sharron Williams, 49, and ex-business partner Roy Cottee, 66 into his gang. Bellchambers pleaded guilty to involvement in the conspiracy along with Keith Thomas, 50, and Chris Moughton, 56.

Bellchambers also admitted the unauthorised use of trademarks in relation to counterfeit Qantas business class lounge invitation cards and Sony memory sticks.

Bellchambers was jailed for four years and three months, with a recommendation to serve half the sentence in custody. Thomas was sentenced to 16 months in jail, with an order to serve half in custody. Moughton meanwhile received a 19-week sentence, suspended for 12 months, with a three-month tagged curfew.

“In this case, the counterfeit goods purported to be highly technical pieces of sports equipment,” said Judge Jacqueline Beech in the Guardian newspaper. “Many millions of pounds have been spent by Achusnet, Calloway and Cleveland, the main brands concerned in this case, in developing the clubs, and to a lesser extent the clothing.”

eBay welcomed the sentencing after it had worked with trading standards to build the case.

“Trust is at the heart of everything we do and so when, on occasion, that trust is abused by a small minority, we work tirelessly to ensure that they will not get away with it,” said Mark Lewis, eBay UK MD. “This has been a long and complex investigation and our fraud investigation team has worked tirelessly with Havering Trading Standards to help bring about today’s result.”

“It’s over 10 years since we launched our first anti-counterfeit measures and during that time we have developed innovative solutions to help prevent the sale of counterfeit goods on our site,” he added.