A couple has lost £95,000 of life savings after sending it to copycat fraudsters cloning a top investment company.
John and Lynda Gordon lost every penny after their money was transferred to the Middle East within hours as police reveal the number of scams operated by cloned investment companies has soared.
The Financial Conduct Authority is issuing new warnings every day about bogus companies stealing the identities of real firms to dupe unwitting victims after the number of clone frauds tripled in two years.
The fraud against the Gordons only came to light when their bank stopped them from transferring a further £30,000 to the bogus firm after receiving a warning about its legitimacy. Police have confirmed at least six more victims.
Lynda, a retired head teacher, said: “When I found out we had lost £95,000, I felt sick to the stomach. My husband doesn’t have a works pension and we had saved very hard for many years for a comfortable life in our old age.
“Instead we have lost a fortune. This has put a huge stress on us.”
The couple, from Dornoch, Sutherland, who are in their 70s, were the victims of a sophisticated cloning fraud. They were persuaded to part with the cash after John saw an advert online for CM-CIC Market Solutions, which claimed to be based in London. After contacting the firm, he was emailed a professional-looking brochure and was allocated a dedicated financial adviser.
“The information package stated we were covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme for up to £85,000 per person,” John, a retired river ghillie, said. “The whole thing was very plausible.”
What the couple didn’t know was the fake company they had contacted had used the same name as a genuine investment firm based in France.
In November 2017, Lynda visited the Bank of Scotland branch in Tain and transferred £95,000.
“After that, the investment manager from CM-CIC regularly kept in touch by phone and we were sent updated statements of our investment,” she said.
Still believing the company was genuine, in June 2018 Lynda tried to transfer a further £30,000.
“This time the transaction was stopped,” she said. “I was told by the bank manager to contact the police because the account I was going to pay the money into had been flagged up as being suspicious, and the firm was a clone of another registered company.”
The Bank of Scotland recently told the couple they were unable to refund the £95,000. The Gordons also discovered they were not eligible for a payout from a no-blame fund set up by banks for victims of transfer frauds as the fraud had happened last May, before it was introduced.
“We are gutted by this,” Lynda said. “We have both been customers of the bank for more than 50 years.”
The Bank of Scotland said: “Mr and Mrs Gordon were the victims of an investment scam and we have a great deal of sympathy for the distress they have suffered. When we made the initial payment requested by Mr and Mrs Gordon there was no evidence linking this transaction to any company on the FCA warning list and no indication the receiving account, held at another bank, was being used fraudulently.
“However, when Mr and Mrs Gordon attempted to make a second payment, the receiving account had by this point been marked on an industry-wide fraud database as being suspicious.”
The real CM-CIC Market Solutions, based in Paris, did not respond to requests from The Sunday Post for comment – but the company has published a warning on its website about the cloned firm, which had fraudulently used its details in the UK.
The Gordons’ MP, Jamie Stone, said he would take up the couple’s case for compensation.
“I am horrified this has happened in this day and age,” Mr Stone said. “I will be writing to the bank in appropriate terms. If necessary, I am quite prepared to raise the matter with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.”
The latest figures from banking industry regulator UK Finance show almost 3,500 people fell prey to criminals pretending to be legitimate investment companies in the first half of 2019.
This equated to a 152% increase on the previous year – and the amount lost by each individual doubled to £12,200.
And, as criminals become more effective, the chances of people having their money returned remain very low. Of the £43.4m stolen from victims of investment scams during that period, only 7% was returned.
A UK Finance spokesperson said: “Our members have reported that investment scams are having an increasing impact on both case volumes and associated losses, as criminals increasingly look to impersonate investment firms, often setting up cloned websites or social media accounts to draw in unsuspecting consumers.
“Scammers are also known to send out paperwork with the legitimate address to send back to, to add a layer of credibility.”
Don Smith, Edinburgh-based director of intelligence at global company SecureWorks, said it was difficult for law enforcement agencies to monitor the real scale of this type of fraud, as victims were often reluctant to come forward.
He said: “People often do not self-report these crimes to police as it tends to be relatively older, more affluent people who are targeted by scammers and they don’t want other people to know they were fooled into parting with money.”
London’s Metropolitan Police, who are investigating the Gordons’ case, last night confirmed at least another six victims of the same scam have come forward and two men had been arrested.
A Met spokesperson said: “Detectives from the Met’s Economic Crime Unit are investigating reports that a number of people have been the victims of fraud.
“Officers were contacted by Action Fraud in 2018 after six individuals fell victim to people claiming to represent various investment firms.
“Over the course of the investigation, further victims came to light.
“Two men have been arrested and released under investigation. Enquiries into the circumstances remain ongoing.”
The Gordons said they are anxiously awaiting further developments.
“We were told our money had been transferred to somewhere in the United Arab Emirates within hours,” Lynda said.
“We thought we were pretty astute people and it is frustrating how easily we fell for this fraud.
“We would hate to see anyone else be put through a similar ordeal.”
When The Sunday Post tried to access the website the bogus firm was using, it was defunct.
And when we called the London phone number the firm had given to the Gordons, it was unobtainable.
How plausible crooks cause double trouble
In a cloning scam, criminals use details of registered investment firms to fool victims into transferring money into accounts unconnected to the legitimate firm.
The fraudsters will usually promise a higher than usual return, including investments in high-yield bonds, gold, property, carbon credits, cryptocurrencies, land banks and wine.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said: “A new tactic has seen fraudsters using the name, firm registration number and address of firms and individuals authorised by us to suggest they are genuine. This is what we call a clone firm.
“We strongly advise people to only deal with financial services firms which are authorised by us, and check our register to ensure they are.
“To verify an identity, ask for their firm registration number and contact details, but always call them back on the switchboard number given on our register.
Rob Pritchard, founder of online security firm The Cyber Security Expert, said it was too easy for criminals to get away with this type of fraud.
“Unfortunately it’s extremely easy to clone websites and to give the impression of being based in a specific location when in fact it’s all fake,” he said. “It is very distressing for victims, especially as there is little recourse.
“Banks often will not refund the money and perpetrators are rarely convicted.”
Detective inspector Gordon Burns, of Police Scotland’s Financial Investigation Unit, said investment fraud can take many forms and those responsible are extremely skilled in gaining people’s trust.
“In some instances, the perpetrators will pretend to be from reputable firms registered with the FCA and offer investments with very attractive returns,” he said.
“When making any investment, it is vital to take time to consider what is being offered and if it too good to be true – then it likely is.
“If you think you have fallen victim to any scam and have transferred funds, please contact your bank immediately and report the matter to Police via 101.”
Report: How Scammers are slipping through net
Fraudsters are able to “operate with impunity” because police are not properly equipped to investigate them, an official report has concluded.
The review, led by former Metropolitan Police deputy commissioner Sir Craig Mackey, found that only one in 200 officers in England and Wales was dedicated to investigating fraud even though there were almost four million incidents a year, more than a third of all crimes.
The review found that growth in fraud meant that it should be seen as a “national threat.”
In Scotland, there were 9,675 crimes of fraud recorded in 2018-19, up 12% and the fourth consecutive annual increase.
Sir Craig’s review called for “radical change”. He wrote: “Fraudsters operate with impunity and renewed commitments are needed in the police service to take the fight back to them.”
The review was prompted by an investigation by The Times last year. It found that call handlers for Action Fraud, the police’s national fraud reporting service, which has been outsourced to a Gourock call centre, were trained to mislead callers into thinking their cases would be investigated when most were never looked at again.
Sir Craig found there were “disturbing trends” in the work of Action Fraud, which was “lagging behind industry standards”.
Police Scotland said: “Action Fraud is a Home Office-funded fraud reporting system of which Police Scotland has never been a member. Anyone in Scotland who believes they may have been the victim of a fraud should call us on 101 or report it to any police officer.”