THE CON: The global counterfeiting ring did its business online, selling worthless phony golf clubs on eBay. Its head, Gary Bellchambers, lived an interesting double-life: In Thailand, he was a powerful businessman. In his native England, he was a struggling to make ends meet.
THE DAMAGE: $3 million
THE OUTCOME: Bellchambers was sentenced to four years behind bars in England.
Online shoppers can find just about anything on the online auction site, eBay. Until British officials put an end to the scam in 2008, they could find grossly overpriced, phony golf clubs and accessories. For four years, Gary Bellchambers – known as “The Man” amongst his associates – ran a global scam on eBay.
Working with co-conspirators all over the world – from Australia, Germany, Singapore and the U.S., among other places – Bellchambers orchestrated the scam. The phony golf clubs were made in China for about $5 apiece and made to look like the top brands, including TaylorMade, Odyssey and Callaway.
Using hundreds of different eBay accounts, Bellchambers and his co-conspirators sold these fakes, along with clothing and accessories. Friends and family members were pulled into the con, allowing Bellchambers to use their existing eBay accounts or to use their names and addresses to set up new accounts.
Meanwhile, Bellchambers divided his time between his homes in England and Thailand. In a vain attempt to avoid suspicion, he lived a modest life in Essex. His home was small and nondescript and he drove an old Ford Escort. In Thailand, it was a different story. Members of the expatriate community in Pattaya, Thailand knew Bellchambers as a powerful international businessman. He lived in palatial digs, owned a yacht and a floating restaurant in Australia.
He had employees in several “departments”: there were people who packaged and mailed the golf clubs and people whose job it was to answer complaints. To keep the authorities at bay, Bellchambers usually sent a refund to anyone who demanded one.
It was unfortunate for Bellchambers that he was in Thailand and did not receive the multiple emails sent to him by one especially unsatisfied and persistent customer.
Failing to get a response, that woman filed a report with trading standards officers. Before long, an investigation – codenamed “Operation Augusta” after the U.S. golf club that hosts the Masters – was launched.
Investigators uncovered what one latter called the most massive counterfeiting operation he had seen in 35 years. There were records of 96,000 transactions carried out by the global ring. In one month, Bellchambers and his crew made more than $130,000 from the sale of worthless goods.
In 2010, Bellchambers was sentenced to four years and three months. Several of his accomplices also received jail time, including his sister, right-hand man and several other gang members.