A STUDENT from Garston who helped defraud almost £250,000 by copying 120 credit cards while working in a shop in Hatfield's Galleria was jailed for 21 months on Friday, June 14.

Ross Lee, 21, of Louvain Way, admitted that while working as a cashier at clothing store The Design Room, he had passed customers' cards through a device which recorded the magnetic strip details so they could be reproduced on forged cards.

Between January 2001 and his arrest on April 18, 2001, he copied information used for fraudulent transactions costing banks and credit card companies about £239,000.

Some of the transactions related to expenditure in Britain, but mostly in Turkey, France and the USA.

Yet the former University of Hertfordshire media student, who originally denied the scam but changed his plea in May, told police he received just £4 per card from his accomplices.

Prosecuting barrister Myles Bennett told St Albans Crown Court: "While the customer wasn't looking, he would swipe the card through a device the size of a mobile phone.

"It became clear a number of cards with reported fraudulent spending had been used at this outlet.

"One person only ever used the card at this shop."

At first, Lee used his own staff reference number to record the sales, ensuring he earned the shop's commission, but later he covered his tracks by using his colleagues' numbers.

Detective Sergeant George Smith of Hertfordshire police's credit card fraud unit interviewed all staff at the store, and noticed the pattern of use of the copied cards fitted Lee's hours of work.

In March, another man working in the Galleria, Mr Brian Jarvis, told police Lee had told him he could earn £500 a week by copying customers' credit cards.

Mr David Morris, defending, said: "He was recruited into the conspiracy as the most menial and lowly rewarded member, but his role was critical.

"He was always uncomfortable in denying his role. There came a time when he went to see his mother, broke down and confessed to everything to her. She persuaded him to tell his solicitors, and his plea was changed."

Lee started work in The Design Room in October 2000, and began to copy credit cards three months later.

Judge Cripps, announcing the 21-month sentence, said: "Those who go in for this form of fraud must be dealt with severely."

June 21, 2002 14:30