Four members of an organised crime gang have been convicted of exploiting vulnerable girls living in foster care and semi-independent accommodation.
The gang members from Cambridge, London and Essex were convicted of modern slavery and fraud offences after concerns were raised by retail and local authority children’s services staff.
More than 30 victims, many with mental health problems, were trained and trafficked to commit refund fraud using fake receipts and by attaching false barcodes on products before asking for refunds at the full price.
Girls were identified by gang members by infiltrating friendship groups then being tricked or coerced to carry out the crimes. They were then driven along pre-planned routes across the country to commit their crimes for which they received payment and perks such as take away meals and overnight stays.
The gang made more than £500,000 in profit with money laundered through more than 100 UK bank accounts belonging to children or adults with mental health problems and other vulnerabilities.
Crown Prosecution Service spokesperson Marie Olo said: “The girls were selected because they were vulnerable with difficult backgrounds or mental health problems” she added that the gang members “were perfectly willing to step back and let them face arrest and potential prosecution”.
All four members of the gang await sentencing.