A joint investigation by fraud squad detectives and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has uncovered the scam, in which fraudsters pass themselves off as legitimate food wholesalers to target suppliers of meat, fish, fresh produce and soft drinks.
Scores of big-name food and drink suppliers have already been duped by fraudsters, who alter official letterheads of legitimate wholesalers before placing orders. The fake companies then switch delivery address at the last minute, unload their deliveries and make off without paying. The goods are then sold on through outlets such as markets and street stalls.
A spokeswoman for the FSA said legitimate retailers could be losing out on trade as a result.