A vigilant bank manager who contacted Surrey Police when he was worried about one of his clients is being hailed as a hero after he triggered an investigation into an organised crime group who were jailed for fraud today.
The group (six men and one woman) ran a “boiler room” that groomed their elderly victims and took over £800,000 from at least 24 victims from across the country.
They set up a company ‘The Commodities Link’ which appeared legitimate with offices in Canary Wharf, glossy brochures and slick marketing videos. They boasted of celebrity links, and would send cars to collect high value victims and take them out for meals.
In fact it was all a façade – the Canary Wharf offices were serviced offices and mailboxes, the claims in the glossy brochures and slick videos were fake.
Salesmen for the company would call victims and sell investments in “rare earth elements” – raw materials used in industrial processes as catalysts, and in the creation of high quality glass and magnets. Victims were sold an investment “basket” containing one or two kilograms, which were effectively worthless, as the supposed market – large industrial firms – would only be interested in buying the materials by the tonne direct from the mining companies.
Surrey Police started investigating the company in 2013, after one of the victims, a woman in her 80’s from Woking, asked her bank manager help her transfer £100,000 to the fraudsters. The bank manager became suspicious and contacted police.
Over the lifetime of the company, between April 2012 and August 2014 (when it was wound up by the High Court), ‘The Commodities Link’ took over £800,000 from at least 24 victims – many of whom were elderly or could not afford to keep investing at the rate that was demanded of them. None of the victims received any return on their investments, despite being assured that they would. In many cases the fraudsters returned to the same victims again and again, demanding more money for storage of the materials or to release their equity.
Detective Inspector Matthew Durkin from Surrey Police said:
“This was a complex case to investigate due to the large number of defendants, the huge amount of digital, financial and paper evidence, and the complex nature of the defendants changing relationships during the time that the fraud took place. I am proud of the result we got today and that is testament to the hard work of my officers.
“I want to particularly pay tribute to the bank manager who started this investigation by giving us a call when he was uncomfortable with an investment a client was trying to make. Without his quick thinking, who knows how much further they would have got.
“This company tried to appear professional and legitimate to the outside world – but all they were is professional criminals: thieves in suits.
“They were professional in their approach to defrauding their victims. They cold-called them, but took their time over making the investment seem legitimate, grooming the victims into believing that they had done their homework and this was a good investment.
“These victims were not stupid and they were not greedy. The criminals worked very hard to persuade them – some of whom were previously successful business people or academics – that this was a good investment opportunity.
“Once the investor had transferred some funds, the group were ruthless in exploiting those that had fallen for their lies, persuading them to invest repeatedly by encouraging them to ‘increase’ or ‘diversify’ the portfolio and make it ‘more attractive to buyers’.
“These people have broken their victims’ lives – they took life savings, left investors destitute and ruined their confidence and independence.
“My message to anyone receiving a cold call about an investment opportunity is to hang up. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! If you are tempted to make investments, then seek professional advice and help – your due diligence needs to be completely independent of the people selling you the investment – it is all too easy to set up websites and glossy marketing materials that make an investment appear legitimate.
“I also want to warn specifically about the use of Escrow agents. This gang made use of Escrow agents to transfer the money, and highlighted that the agent was registered with the Financial Services Agency. In this case the Escrow agents were only there to help transfer the money – they had no part in the fraud, there was no FSA protection, and it did not mean the investment was genuine.”
Inspector Paul Carroll, of the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, said:
“This is an excellent example of how our close partnership working with local forces can lead to successful prosecutions of cruel fraudsters.
“In this case, Action Fraud was able to link reports made by the victims and send them on to Surrey Police for, what was a lengthy and complex, investigation.
“These criminals betrayed the trust of unsuspecting people and made a living out of lying for their own monetary gain. We are pleased that they have now been brought to justice.
“If you think you have been a victim of fraud, report it to Action Fraud.”
Lisa Ramsarran, Head of the CPS South East Complex Casework Unit, said:
“This was a sophisticated and high value fraud, where the perpetrators made a series of false claims to their victims about the likely returns on their investments.
“By telling them only half the story, they were able to persuade people to part with considerable sums of money for commodities that were practically worthless.
“They then continued to try and get more money from their victims with false claims about how well their investments were doing.
“Through using phone records, company documentation, expert reports to help explain the fraud in layman’s terms and, in some cases, identification of the defendants by their victims, we were able to put together a compelling case to ensure these fraudsters, who have caused so much distress, were brought to justice.”