The net is closing in on criminals who sell illicit tobacco via social media sites, such as Facebook, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has warned.
The warning comes as three members of the same household were jailed for selling illegal cigarettes through Facebook earlier this week.
The trio had made a business of selling cigarettes from their family home in Wednesdbury in the West Midlands.
They were caught by HMRC investigators, who had been monitoring the Facebook adverts, before carrying out a raid on the family home.
The family members used at least six different profiles on the social media site to advertise single packs and boxes of 200 non-duty paid cigarettes in a four-year fraud.
A meticulous 365-page diary of their illegal sales, found in the home, helped investigators to estimate that Hazell Lumbley, her ex-partner Steven Henderson, and Hazell’s daughter, Hayley Eaton had evaded £352,428.67 in duty over four years.
They even offered a ‘try before you buy’ option and a ‘free delivery service’ depending on the order size and distance.
At Wolverhampton Crown Court, Lumbley was jailed for two years and three months, Henderson was jailed for two years and Eaton was handed a two-year community order.
The car used to make the illegal deliveries was also seized on the day of the raid as was a significant amount of tobacco, some of which was later found to be counterfeit.
The majority of the tobacco products seized were found to be “cheap whites” − genuine tobacco brands from other countries that are not intended for sale in the UK.
HMRC investigators also found £2,200 in cash, which was later forfeited after the family could provide no legitimate source for it.
Nick Stone, assistant director, fraud investigation service, HMRC, said: “The delivery days are over for these three who are paying the price for cheating, stealing and undercutting honest, hard-working retailers who do the right thing.
“People who peddle cut-price, illegal cigarettes on social media sites are depriving public services of vital funding.
“I would urge anybody with information about individuals or businesses involved in tax fraud to report it to HMRC online or call our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”
Information about any type of tax fraud can be reported to HMRC online at www.gov.uk/report-an-unregistered-trader-or-business