A Brighton woman who helped catch a gang of fraudsters wants to help others from becoming the victim of similar frauds.
Pamela Stokes was conned out of £7,500 in March 2014 but as she watched her mother’s inheritance being driven off in a taxi, she realised she had been defrauded, and her information led to four people being caught and sentenced.
The 62-year-old received a call last year from a man claiming to be a PC Ian Baker from Paddington Green Police station in London and told her bank account had been compromised.
Pamela said: “My daughter lives in London so my first thought when I was told there was bad news was that something had happened to her, I was just so relieved that the call was not about her, I stopped thinking straight and so genuinely believed there was a problem with my bank account which was part of a major police investigation.
“They told me to ring the number on the back of my bank card and speak to my bank’s fraud department and then call them back. The fact that I got through so easily to the bank should have been a red flag.”
Between the fake people at the bank and the fake police officer, Pamela was convinced to go into Brighton to withdraw £5,500, an inheritance from her mother who had recently died. She passed it over to a taxi driver, who was supposedly acting as a courier.
The fraudsters then phoned her back and asked her to get out more money, this time in Euros. Once she had handed this over to another taxi driver, Pamela suddenly realised something wasn’t right.
She remembers thinking: “What on earth was I doing handing over all this money, without a receipt, and to a taxi driver when the logical thing would have been to take my money to the local police station. I phoned 101, the real police, and was told I had been scammed.”
She continued: “Within minutes, real police officers came to my home while I was still receiving calls from the fraudsters. By tracing the phone call and taxi driver, the police were able to arrest those responsible.
“I was still giving my statement when the criminals thought they were collecting their spoils from a taxi driver. They were not, the taxi driver had been replaced by a police officer.”
“There were so many red flags that I missed. I wish I had taken the money to Brighton police station rather than handing it over to what they told me was a courier.
“When you call the bank usually there are loads of security checks but there wasn’t when I phoned, that should have been a red flag.
“The police or bank will never phone out of the blue. You will always have human contact with the police not someone just claiming to be some PC from a police station in London. Had I done that they would have told me it was a scam.
“I asked myself how I could have been so stupid, but these confidence tricksters are cunning. They hook you into a drama where you believe you are helping the police catch criminals.
“After the trial, I spoke to another victim who, like me, was at a vulnerable time in her life. It helped to know that other people have fallen for it, intelligent, smart people. We both still feel stupid and humiliated and I want to do anything to prevent it happening to others.
“The scam works by making you believe and feel good that you are helping police to catch criminals, I did in the end though.”
The gang from London, who were caught on the back of Pamela’s call, have been jailed for more than 13 years for carrying out a series of fraud offences across Sussex, Surrey and the south east where people were conned out of more than £100,000.
Thomas Curliss, 63, of Pentonville Road, London, Ciaran Daniels, 18, of Pentonville Road, London, Daisy-Mae McFadyen, 21, of Outram Place, London, and Michael Papa, 20, of Woodbridge Street, London were sentenced at a hearing at Guildford Crown Court on Tuesday, May 5.
All four were charged with a total of 81 conspiracy to commit fraud offences which were carried out across Sussex, Surrey, Kent, Thames Valley and Hertfordshire between September 2013 and March 2014.
Curliss pleaded not guilty to all charges, but was found guilty following a five day trial at Guildford Crown Court in March this year. The other three offenders had all entered guilty pleas at an earlier hearing.
Curliss was sentenced to five years imprisonment, Papa to 40 months, McFadyen was jailed for 30 months and Daniels was jailed for a total of 28 months.
Detective Sergeant Ollie Cummings from Surrey Police, who led the investigation, said: “The sentencing of this gang of cowardly offenders sends out a clear message that crimes of this nature will not be tolerated in Sussex and we will do everything possible to bring those responsible before the courts.
“This was a prolific and highly organised criminal gang who shamelessly targeted vulnerable elderly residents across the south east and on a number of occasions stole huge sums of money by exploiting the trust of people who thought they were assisting a police investigation.”
Sussex Police is reinvigorating a campaign to protect vulnerable victims of fraud highlighted by a new film focused on supporting those at risk.
The force and Home Office have been working closely together to protect those vulnerable to all types of fraud, known as Operation Signature, which range from investment to romance scams, and increasingly with fraudsters posing as officials to dupe vulnerable people into giving them money.
The new film is currently being delivered to a variety of audiences, focusing on banks and community groups with the purpose of raising awareness about the issue and encouraging them to work with the force to help prevent the vulnerable from becoming victims.
Police are continuing to remind members of the public to take the following steps to help protect themselves against fraud:
• Never give out any personal information about your bank account to anybody over the phone.
• If someone calls claiming to be a police officer, ask for their identification number, police force and their telephone extension. Hang up the call, and advise that you will call them back using the 101 number.
• Use a different phone line to call back if possible, i.e: a mobile phone if the call was received on your landline.
• If you have given out information which could compromise your bank account security in any way, call your bank up to cancel your cards as soon as possible.
• Never hand over money to someone at the door to be sent off elsewhere.
• If someone comes to your door claiming to be a police officer or staff member, always ask for identification and make note of their identification number.