BBC team buys "convincing" fake rail tickets on dark web

An undercover BBC investigation has found a black market of bogus rail tickets sold on the "dark web".

The tickets, which are sold at a vastly reduced price but have the correct fare printed on them, won't work at the rail station barriers but rail staff, when presented with the fake tickets, will let passengers through.

The investigation by BBC South East saw the purchase of two forged tickets – a first class fare from Hastings to Manchester and a monthly season ticket between Gatwick and London – from the dark web using the virtual currency Bitcoin.

The first class fare cost just £111 instead of £285, while the season ticket was sold at the bargain price of £100 instead of the normal £308.

The presenter, who also carried genuine tickets, successfully used the fakes to board the trains and travel without being caught and without any questions asked.

Experts that the BBC talked to, were impressed at how good the counterfeit tickets were.

"It is a very convincing forgery and I think it's very difficult for railway staff, at a glance, to tell there is anything wrong with that," said James Abbott, editor of Modern Railways Magazine. "I think what it shows perhaps is that rail companies need to tighten up on their procedures a bit and have someone checking through the codes on the ticket to make sure it is indeed legitimate."

Rail fraud investigator Mike Keeber said the tickets were very good forgeries and could see why the ticket would get past rail staff. "But there's something on there that shouldn't be on there. I'd rather not say what it is, as people who make this [could] change it and make our lives harder," he added.

Julio Hernandez-Castro, a senior lecturer at the University of Kent, believed the forgeries could be an inside job. "He shows expert knowledge in how train tickets are manufactured and how they operate. The kind of inside knowledge that most likely you will only find in someone working on it on a daily basis."

As part of the BBC investigation, the team approached the rail ticket seller on the dark web, not expecting to get a response. But the seller, who went by the name of Paul, replied with a statement. "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. We wish one day everyone will be able to use an affordable public service. Until then, we will be providing it."

According to the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train companies, fare dodgers and people travelling on fake tickets "deprive the railway" of around £200m a year, which could be spent on improving services.

"Being in possession of a forged ticket is a criminal offence and risks a hefty fine or prison sentence. The vast majority of passengers, who do pay the correct fare, don't feel they should subsidise those who choose not to," it added.

Rail experts believe that about four in every 100 passengers will be travelling on fake tickets or dodging the full fare, which accounts for about 3 to 4 per cent of lost revenue.

There are a number of ongoing criminal investigations looking at counterfeit rail tickets in the UK.

The documentary was broadcast on Monday 31 October on BBC Inside Out South East and is available on BBC iPlayer (UK only).

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