Belfast Telegraph

TV's Gloria: 'I felt 'violated' after lookalike conwoman swindled me out of £120k'

Shocked Ulster-born presenter slams bank's security checks as police reveal two of criminal gang behind scam remain at large

By Claire McNeilly

Gloria Hunniford has said she felt violated after a 'lookalike' conwoman managed to swindle £120,000 from her savings by posing as the star.

The Northern Ireland-born TV and radio star said she was still in shock after learning that the imposter, who is currently on the run, was able to add a fake grandson as a signatory to her Santander account in order to perpetrate the fraud.

And the 'Rip Off Britain' presenter also slammed the bank's security checks for falling far short of what customers should expect by not "double-checking the facts".

Cashier Aysha Davis (28) said the fraudster told her she had "a few bob" in her account and had come to add the teenager as a signatory because she had been ill.

They filled in paperwork to access the account, including photocopying their passports, and within days had stolen more than £120,000 from the celebrity.

Ms Hunniford (76), a 'Loose Women' panellist who regularly appears on 'This Morning' and 'The One Show', said it was very difficult to believe what had happened.

"If my husband or one of my two sons went into my bank and said they wanted to be a co-signatory I'd expect very thorough checks," she said.

"But in this case somebody was able to go to the bank with a copy of a driving licence or something.

"I didn't understand it from the off. I felt completely violated. These were my savings. You expect your money to be safe in a bank, but it is not."

The stylish, sophisticated, veteran journalist, who presents BBC One's consumer series 'Rip Off Britain' alongside Julia Somerville and Angela Rippon, said she had lost her faith in banks.

"I am left with no trust. You think anybody can walk into a bank pretending to be someone else and get it all signed over," she said.

"Banks are going to have to step up their security with staff and systems. If someone can be scammed as easily as this, they have to up their game."

The Portadown native, whose work with Rip Off Britain has given her an insight into scammers' methods, also said it was time for the financial institutions to up their game to protect clients.

"There's no way I could have foreseen this," said Gloria, who now lives in Kent.

"In this case, a bank official took them on their word and did not, in my opinion, double-check the facts.

"It was such a shock. You keep your savings where you feel they are safe. What else can you do with them?

"Banks give out advice all the time on scamming, but the one piece of advice I think they need to pick up on is that their own security checks have to be stronger."

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The Hunniford 'lookalike' was believed to be so unconvincing that Ms Davis was initially suspected of being part of the fraud, but she was acquitted yesterday by a jury who believed she genuinely didn't know who Gloria was.

Police are still hunting for the pensioner fraudster and her bogus daughter, while stand-in grandson Alan Dowie (18) escaped jail to go to university.

Reylon Dillion, also aged 18, who laundered some of the cash from the scam, is due to be sentenced on September 7.

Dowie and Dillion were snared by a bank fraud task force set up by the Met and City of London Police.

Ms Hunniford - who has previously spoken of her devastation at the death of her daughter, Blue Peter host Caron Keating, in 2004 from breast cancer - was reimbursed by Santander once the scam was discovered.

The incident happened on June 3 last year when a plump elderly woman - whom a judge described as a 'look not very much alike' - presented herself at the Croydon North End branch, saying that she was Ms Hunniford.

The con-artist showed personal banker Aysha Davis ID and a bank card in the name of Mary Winifred Gloria Hunniford and said that she wanted her grandson to become an extra signatory on the account.

An Old Bailey jury yesterday cleared Ms Davis - who denied conspiracy to defraud - of helping the fraudsters to pull off the scam.

She was acquitted after less than 30 minutes of deliberation after telling a court she took the imposter at her word because she didn't realise Ms Hunniford is in fact a famous television star when she fell into the gang's trap.

Giving evidence, she said she had never met Dowie before he walked into the bank and she said she had to Google Ms Hunniford to find out who she was.

Police yesterday released CCTV images of the two suspects still at large, in a bid to catch the rest of the gang.

Belfast Telegraph


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