Belfast Telegraph

Victims losing a fortune to convincing con artists

By Deborah McAleese

Victims across Northern Ireland are losing thousands of pounds in mass marketing scams being run by ruthless crime gangs.

The victims, some of whom have lost their life savings, are duped into believing they have won cash prizes, a foreign lottery or inherited money from a long-lost relative. In order for their money to be released they are told they must pay a fee.

In other cases they are conned into investing in a fraudulent financial enterprise.

"They are sending their money to a network of criminals. It is tragic. It is the most vulnerable in society that get caught in these sort of scams. Very often it is the elderly," said Detective Chief Inspector Kim McCauley.

"These are not silly people falling for these scams. A lot of times the victims will not believe us when we tell them they are the victims of a fraud. They will believe what they have been groomed into believing. Sometimes they will be told 'don't listen to anybody, they are trying to come between you and your money'," she added.

Case study 1

An elderly couple in their 80s lost over £1m after falling twice for fraudsters. Someone phoned them trying to sell them shares and they were taken in by the professionalism of the fraudsters. They were convinced into handing over all of their life savings and took out several large loans to pay the fraudsters. Police were finally alerted by a financial adviser who the couple went to see to discuss remortgaging their house. However, nine months later police received a call from the couple's bank to say they had been targeted again. The couple had refused to believe they had been scammed and reinvested in another scam.

Case study 2

A pensioner lost £40,000 in prize draws and lottery scams. Every time he believed he had won a prize he sent off a cheque for £30 or £40 to the address supplied after being told he had to pay a fee in order for his winnings to be released. When police were called in to investigate by a suspicious bank manager they discovered that the man had 15 folders full of scam 'winning' letters that he had responded to and sent money to in a bid to claim his 'big cash prize'.

Case study 3

A couple lost over £1m within the space of 18 months after responding to an inheritance scam letter believing that a relative had died in Hong Kong. The fraudsters kept telling them that they had to pay different fees before the money could be released. The police only became involved when they contacted the PSNI as a last resort after they believed they may be involved in blackmailing Hong Kong police. The scammers told them they needed more cash to bribe police and law officials.

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