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Scamming is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and while most of us like to think we are too clever to fall for them, the data says otherwise. In the first half of 2022, criminals stole a total of £609.8million through authorised and unauthorised fraud and scams, and, as technology continues to evolve and we increasingly turn to the internet to purchase goods and services, using ever faster payment systems, scammers are moving right along with us, coming up with new tricks to catch us all off guard.
Below, we have highlighted some of the biggest swindles and money laundering schemes of the past 12 months, and urge businesses and individuals to learn from them going into 2023:
In November, law enforcement agencies across the globe uncovered one of the biggest scams in history that saw around 200,000 people defrauded out of at least £50 million. Just under 60,000 criminals paid subscriptions of between £150 and £35,000 to owners of the website ispoof.cc to use technology that made it appear as if they were phoning their victims from their bank. They then used this technology to scam victims out of vast sums. The worldwide scam – which defrauded victims in the US, Australia and other European countries as well as the UK - saw the owners of the website make £3.2 million from subscriptions, while victims lost an average of £10,000 each. The suspected mastermind behind the site is Teejai Fletcher, 34, from east London, who set it up in 2020, advertising his technology with the line ‘iSpoof was made by spoofers, for spoofers. In November, the Met arrested 100 people in connection with the ispoof operation, including Fletcher, who is charged with making or supplying articles for use in fraud, participating in activities of an organised crime group and proceeds of crime matters.
Former double-glazing salesman David Ames duped more than 8,000 people into investing in a £226 million Ponzi scheme which netted him and his family £6.1 million. The 70-year-old promised his victims a stake in celebrity-endorsed luxury hotels and resorts in return for their investments, but only one of the properties actually existed. Investors paid a 30 percent deposit to purchase an unbuilt villa or hotel room, half of which went toward fees for Harlequin and relevant salespeople, while Harlequin put the remaining 15 percent toward construction. Over the eight years, Harlequin sold around 9,000 property units to investors, but constructed less than 200. In October, Ames was jailed for 12 years for the scheme; the Serious Fraud Office said he committed fraud on a “huge scale, knowingly exposing thousands of UK investors to losses totalling hundreds of millions of pounds.”
In what has been described by the Serious Fraud Office as ‘highly corrosive and endemic corruption’ mining giant Glencore pleaded guilty to seven counts of bribery after it was revealed it paid bribes totalling $29 million to gain preferential access to oil in five African countries. The case included the first ever use of ‘substantive bribery offences’ against a company, which means that senior individuals at Glencore actually authorised the bribery, rather than failing to prevent it.
Glencore will pay a fine, a confiscation order for the profit it obtained from the bribes, and the full costs of the investigation - a total of £280 million and the highest financial penalty ever ordered in a corporate criminal conviction.
The case was described as “a landmark case in UK anti-bribery enforcement’ given it was the first time a corporate has been convicted for the active authorisation of bribery, speaking about the case, Lisa Osofsky, Director, Serious Fraud Office said “Glencore pursued profits to the detriment of national governments in some of the poorest countries in the world. The company’s ruthless greed and criminality have been rightfully exposed.”
Around 500 investors lost a combined total of more than £100m as a result of a scam by solicitor Timothy Schools. The 61-year-old conman set up Axiom Legal Financing Fund, based in the Cayman Islands, in 2009 to provide loans to law firms pursuing no-win, no-fee cases, but as investment manager for the fund, he used the money to find his luxury lifestyle.
Schools told investors that their loans would be given to a panel of high-quality law firms, however, £40m of the funds were paid to just three - ATM, Ashton Fox and Bracewell's – and Schools either owned or held undisclosed interests in all three. He paid himself a salary of over £1 million and also spent millions on properties luxury cars, and a boat.
Schools was convicted in August of fraudulent trading, fraud by abuse of position and money laundering and jailed for 14 years. He was also disqualified from being a director of a company for 15 years and struck off the solicitor's register.
Andrew Skeene and Junie Bowers, scammed 2,000 investors out of their pensions and savings by convincing them to invest in three Brazilian teak tree plantations, claiming they were ethical investments that would help protect the Amazon rainforest. The pair took £750k of their victims’ money in cash, and spent around £2 million on retail, luxuries and entertainment. Skeene also used investors’ money to fund his own lavish wedding, while Bowers bought a Bentley Continental GT.
Skeene and Bowers were convicted of three counts of conspiracy to defraud and one count of misconduct in the course of winding up a company, and in June, both were sentenced to 11 years in prison.
The cases are huge, and shocking, and it is therefore encouraging that law enforcement and regulators are clamping down and taking action against those involved. However, this is only one part of the solution. For most of the victims of these crimes it is already too late, so we all need to be doing more to prevent fraud and money laundering in the first place.
With the techniques now available to scammers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to spot a swindle, but there are things we can do to mitigate the risk. For businesses, having robust anti-fraud and anti-money laundering procedures in place is key - data from UK Finance also shows that anti-fraud security systems used by banks also prevented just under £584 million from being stolen – and at SmartSearch we can help regulated firms protect their business, their reputation and their customers with our market-leading solutions.
For consumers, fraud prevention is all about staying alert and being suspicious of anything out of the ordinary. The golden rule is as it ever was…..if something seems too good to be true…it probably is.