York graduate steals £30,000 from professor in identity fraud

Former student given four year sentence
Credit card and loans run up huge debts
Six month drinking and gambling spree

YORK PROFESSOR Sultan Barakat unknowingly funded the extravagant lifestyle of a former student who stole his financial details and defrauded him of £29,000 to spend on drinking and gambling.

Joseph Ashby, a graduate from the University, received a four year prison sentence during the Easter vacation for running up debts of over £40,000 in other people’s names, including the substantial sum stolen using Professor Barakat’s identity.

York Crown Court heard how Ashby drank and gambled away most of the money in venues around the city in just six months. Andrew Kershaw, prosecuting, explained: “People who knew him when he was in York say his life was simply a party. He lived in hotels and bars.”

Professor Barakat, a Politics academic at the University, was a close neighbour of Ashby and living in the same building in Melrose Court when he was targeted at the end of last year. Ashby applied for a £20,000 loan in the Professor’s name and also set up two credit card accounts, running them both to their limits. Professor Barakat, who had been away from home, realised what had happened when he returned to find a “nightmare postbag” of payment demands and letters from solicitors regarding credit agreements he had never made.

When Ashby was finally caught by the police in October, he had nearly £10,000 in cash as well as a list of personal details and credit card numbers for 140 people in the York area. Defending, Simon Waley claimed Ashby had been given the list by a stranger and had only used some of the details to feed his alcohol and betting addictions.

However, when passing sentence, the Honorary Recorder of York, Judge Paul Hoffman, told Ashby: “I have no doubt that had you not been apprehended when you were, you would have gone on to use the full extent of the list.”

Ashby pleaded guilty to seven charges of deception and four of transferring criminal property. His defence requested a further nineteen offenses to be taken into consideration on the basis of his addiction. “He was continuing to lead a completely fake life”, Waley said.

As well as spending excessively on nights out, the Court heard how Ashby ran up further debts buying computers. Detective Constable Pete Bentall, one of the police officers investigating the case, revealed that they found two rooms full of computer equipment at one of his home addresses in York.

Bentall has confirmed that the police are currently trying to reunite Professor Barakat and the other victims of Ashby’s fraud with their money. The fraudulent accounts that Ashby created have all been frozen and he will learn at a hearing on July 15th how much of his illegal goods will be confiscated.

Recent police reports reveal that identity theft and large-scale fraud of this nature is becoming an increasing problem in York and as many as three cases are seen each month. Bentall also explained that many incidents are left unreported because credit card companies offer insurance and regularly write off debts.

Ron Johnson, spokesperson for North Yorkshire Police, warned students to be particularly vigilant and be aware of how easily these crimes are perpetrated. He commented: “the recent government campaign offers sound advice. People need to be careful and keep their personal details secure.”

Johnson explained students should be aware that identity thieves will try and gather as many personal details as possible; going through bins, mailboxes and using the internet to deceive people into divulging information.

Concluding the trial of Ashby, Judge Paul Hoffman exclaimed: “It is disturbing that one can obtain other people’s identities and credit card details so easily.”