A payday loans boss paid for computer hackers to sabotage a consumer watchdog website in a bid to destroy customers’ complaints about his company.
But finance company chief James Frazer-Mann, 35, of Barry , was caught by the United States Secret Service after he paid cyber-criminals to wreck the consumer website in Britain.
Cardiff Crown Court heard the owner of Elite Loans was branded a “predator” online by customers who complained about his company on the online chat forum.
Frazer-Mann then paid £2,000 to hackers in the US to mount cyber attacks against the Consumer Action Group website in a bid to disable it.
Arrested after FBI investigation
However, an investigation into online fraud by the United States Secret Service led to them tipping off police across the Atlantic – and eventually to Frazer-Mann’s arrest in Britain.
James Davies, prosecuting, told the court: “He offered a hacker $100 to take a consumer website down.
“He also made payments to another to orchestrate attacks against his competitors.
“The effects of such attacks are significant as the companies are so reliant on their websites to generate business.”
One online comment read: “These companies are preying on people already in a vulnerable position and making life harder, they should be shut down!!!”
The court was told Frazer-Mann tracked down cyber criminals on an online hacking forum.
He paid them to bombard rival payday loan websites with “Distributed Denial of Service” attacks, which stopped them from being able to run properly.
He paid for a blog to be shut down
The court also heard he had paid for a blog to be shut down.
Frazer-Mann paid over £2,000 to two hackers using the Liberty Reserve payment system, based in Costa Rica.
The payment system allowed users to transfer money by just giving a name, date of birth and email address, and was known for being used by criminals.
It was shut down by the US government in May 2013, which led to the US Secret Service finding Frazer-Mann’s dealings and passing on the information to the Southern Wales Cyber Crime Unit.
The businessman’s home in Barry was raided and his computer equipment was seized.
Mr Davies said: “He claims his company had initially been targeted by other companies. It’s an area of business which is highly competitive and some use unethical practices.
“He said he lost £1,000 a day when his website was targeted.”
He pleaded guilty to five counts of encouraging or the commission of offences which prevent access to programme of documents held in a computer.
The offences took place between January 2013 and February 2015.
‘A very stupid thing to do’
Ben Douglas-Jones, defending Frazer-Mann, said the consumer site had detailed the married businessman’s personal information, and encouraged users to contact him.
Mr Douglas-Jones added: “There’s a low risk of him committing further offences of this nature. He’s now working as a carpet cleaner.”
The court heard Elite Loans has since stopped operating.
Recorder of Cardiff Judge Eleri Rees said: “Over a period of two years you resorted through revenge to try and disrupt websites.
“You were prepared to spend quite considerable amounts of money to achieve this end.”
Frazer-Mann, of Colcot, Barry, was sentenced to four months in prison, suspended for 12 months.
He was ordered to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work and told to pay £530 in costs and victim surcharges.
After the case, Consumer Action Group founder Marc Gander said: “This shows the lengths these payday loans companies will go to in a bid to silence their critics.
“He was upset and contacted a hacker in the US. But it was a very stupid thing to do and it failed to work.”
Mr Gander said his free website has 350,000 members who share consumer advice.
He said: “This could have been very serious but it was stopped in time.”