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Virgin TV pirates’ ringleader stripped of more than £7,000 in illegal earnings

The leader of a gang who pirated Virgin cable TV to more than 40,000 users has been ordered to pay back more than £7,000 of illegal profits.

Paul Hartrick was jailed in February over the scam, which broadcast Virgin’s encryption keys to specially-imported cable boxes which could then decode the channels for free.

Hartrick was jailed for five years after pleading guilty, and on Friday Derby magistrates stripped him of £7,623 in cash found when police raided his home in Tamworth and business in Leicestershire.

Hartrick and his accomplices – Melvin Howard, Anthony Ginnivan and Amber Ahmed – sold around 44,000 Starview cable boxes imported from Korea, for £120 each.

A Starview set-top box

A ‘farm’ of 13 boxes at Ginnivan’s house hosted 13 Virgin boxes with genuine subscriptions, which were hacked to reveal the encryption keys on the Virgin smartcards.

The keys were sent to the Starview boxes via the internet, so they could decode Virgin’s TV channels without a subscription.

Korean box manufacturer Irumtek, even sent a software engineer to help the gang to set up and improve the network.

Jeong Woo You was arrested and charged with fraud along with the others, but was released on bail and absconded, reports This Is Derbyshire.

Detective Constable Adam Govan, investigating officer in the case, said: “This was a sophisticated fraud, taking place on an international scale.

“The jailing of these four men sends out a message that people who involve themselves in this kind of crime can be tracked down and will be brought to justice.

“This may be seen as a faceless crime but in the end it is Virgin Media customers who lose out because the company has to raise prices to make up for its losses.”

Virgin estimated the scam cost it up to £32million in lost revenue in the year in which it operated, from February 2010.

Virgin caught the pirates by switching off parts of its network until it could pinpoint the house in Littleover where they operated the set-top box farm for decoding the signals.

Howard was jailed for two years and ten months, Ginnivan for two years and one month, and Ahmed received a one-year sentence.

John White, head of group security at Virgin Media said: “Virgin Media’s dedicated security team worked closely with police forces and forensic teams to build this case relating to commercial TV fraud.

“A testament to the diligence of the teams involved, the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to a total of over eleven years.

“Aside from committing fraud against Virgin Media, the gang exploited consumers who were misled into spending hundreds of pounds on illegal boxes believing they would be able to access pay TV services without subscription.

“The courts take this type of commercial fraud very seriously and this sentencing should act as a serious warning to members of the public to steer clear of selling or purchasing illegal TV or broadband equipment.

“Purchasing unlawful equipment such as this only serves to fund organised crime and we will continue to investigate and prosecute individuals and groups connected with this type of fraud to the full extent of the law.

“Anyone with information about people supplying or using illicit equipment to receive Virgin Media TV channels can call a confidential hotline: 0800 096 7800.”

Cover image: I Don’t Know, Maybe/Flickr

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