A UK gang is selling fake National Rail train tickets on the Dark Web that are a fraction of the cost and look so realistic that ticket inspectors can easily be fooled into thinking that the tickets are real.
The Dark Web is a section of the internet that is not indexed by search engines. Although some people use the Dark Web to exercise their freedom of speech, there are also others who use it for criminal enterprises, from hosting underground marketplaces trading in drugs, firearms, stolen credit cards and hacking services, to forums dealing in child pornography.
An investigation carried out by BBC South East found that it is easy to purchase forged tickets using the cryptocurrency bitcoin from one of these underground marketplaces on the Dark Web. The journalists bought a fake first-class ticket from Hastings to Manchester for £111 ($136), which usually costs £285, and a monthly season ticket from Gatwick to London for £100 rather than £308.
The tickets arrived within a week from a UK address, printed on the same paper used by British train operators, and the fonts used and printing process makes the fake ticket look identical to a real one. The only thing that cannot be exactly replicated are the magnetic strips on the back of the tickets.
However, since the magnetic strips on authentic train tickets frequently don't work with station ticket barriers, the fraudsters advise their customers to simply put their ticket into the slot in the ticket barrier as usual, and when the ticket is refused, take it to a station staff member, just as you would a legitimate ticket.
Station staff don't seem to be checking tickets thoroughly
And as is the case with authentic tickets that don't work with the barriers, the BBC found that station staff were happy to let them through after examining the ticket, which looks identical to a real ticket issued by any of the rail operators.
It is against the law to travel on the British railways without a valid ticket, so BBC journalist Glenn Campbell carried a real ticket with him at all times, but used the forged tickets when he was required to produce them.
The BBC secretly filmed multiple trips from Gatwick to London and back. Although his ticket continued to be rejected by every single ticket barrier, he was permitted entry on each occasion, even though he gave the station staff the chance to catch him each time.
In one instance, when a staff member let him through the barrier, he gave her the fake ticket, and she gave it back to him, telling him that he got to keep it. And in another instance, when he asked a staff member to look at his season ticket and tell him if he was allowed to take the fast Gatwick Express trains, he was immediately given approval to do so.
Fraudsters want train tickets to be more affordable for all
When asked to examine the forged tickets, Mike Keeber, a fraud investigator working for the rail train companies said that the tickets were a very good fake, but he could still pinpoint something that was wrong with it.
He is aware that it is possible to purchase forged train tickets on the Dark Web, but what alarmed him the most about the BBC's footage is the fact that the station staff so easily trusted that Campbell's ticket was real and let him through on every single occasion.
"The train companies keep stuffing their pockets with public subsidies while treating the operation of rail services as an inconvenience. No one should be ashamed of getting one over companies like Southern Rail," the fraudster, who goes by the name "Paul" on the Dark Web, told the BBC in an official statement.
"We wish one day everyone will be able to use an affordable public service. Until then, we will be providing it."