Fraudsters have stolen £18 million from residents in Aylesbury Vale region since first lockdown

The latest Police report suggest scammers are using a 'clone firm' system to steal from people online.

Wednesday, 27th January 2021, 10:41 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th January 2021, 10:44 am

The latest report from the Thames Valley Police in collaboration with the City of London Police and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), reveals that financial scams across the UK has risen by 29% since we first entered lockdown in March 2020.

Action Fraud data shows Thames Valley residents have lost more than £18 million in 2020.

The Thames Valley Police report released this morning on Wednesday January 27, urged would be investors to only use Financial Services Register here to check a person or companies' contact details.

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Thames Valley Police warn against 'investment clone' scam that has taken £18 million from victims Aylesbury Vale's region since the first national lockdown

Currently, the scam growing in popularity involves con artists imitating genuine investment firms. These scammers use the name, address and ‘Firm Reference Number’ (FRN) of real companies authorised by the FCA.

Victims are targeted by fake social media adverts that also populate on search engines. Once someone has clicked on this fake advert they will be taken to exact replicas of websites belonging to genuine investment firms. The most sophisticated criminals will even clone the website domain name.

Once victims have registered their interest, they’ll be contacted by the fraudsters, who often obtain the names of genuine employees of investment firms and create seemingly legitimate company email addresses, but with very subtle changes.

Another version of this scam involves, investors inputting their contact details into genuine price comparison websites and then being phoned by criminals purporting to be from a well-known, legitimate investment firm. Another tactic used by these criminals to dupe investors is to send victims sales materials linking to websites of legitimate firms.

The returns being promised by these criminal gangs are often modest so as not to arouse suspicion, but slightly better than the market rate, therefore appealing to those looking for long term, ‘safe’ investments.

In the end, victims will end up transferring their savings directly to criminal gangs, under the false belief that they are sending them to a legitimate investment firm. Often, victims will not realise that they’ve been scammed until months later, when they fail to receive quarterly returns or investment reports.

Thames Valley Police have found victims are most often males aged between 50-59.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Richardson, Head of Regional Cyber Crime, Digital Forensics and Economic Crime for the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU), said: “These scams can have a devastating impact on the victims who invest, believing they are legitimate websites.

“This is in no way a victimless crime and can have catastrophic, wide reaching consequences.

“Unfortunately, anyone can become a target of fraud or scams and clone investment fraud can look genuine. Our advice is always stop, challenge and protect.

“Thousands of pounds have been lost due to clone investment fraud and the only way to be sure is to check every detail.

“Responsible businesses would not have any issue with you carrying out due diligence and we recommend you carry out substantial research to ensure your money is going where you want it to go.

“If you have suspicions about a website and think it could be cloned, please send any emails to [email protected] and suspicious text messages should be forwarded to 7726.

“If you believe you are a victim of clone investment fraud, you can make a report by contacting Action Fraud.

“Fraud of any type is a serious crime and SEROCU is dedicated to investigating reports and taking those found responsible through the court process.”

Mark Steward, Executive Director of Enforcement and Market Oversight, FCA, said: “Clone investment scams are sophisticated and extremely difficult to spot. Last year we received over 3767 reports of clone scams to our consumer helpline.

"Fraudsters use literature and websites that mirror those of legitimate firms, as well as encouraging investors to check the Firm Reference Number (FRN) on the FCA Register to sound as convincing as possible.

“If you’re considering an investment, visit the FCA Register to make sure the firm you’re dealing with is authorised. Use the contact details on our FCA Register, not the details the firm gives you, and check for subtle differences to avoid ‘clone firm’ scams. And if you’re still unsure, call our consumer helpline for further information. When it comes to clones, I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to double check every detail.”

The Thames Valley Police had the following statement advising residents on how to protect themselves against this type of fraud:

"Even though two in five (38%) investors said they would check the company’s Firm Reference Number (FRN), checking this alone isn’t enough. Criminals carrying out ‘clone firm’ investment scams will often copy FRN numbers and encourage victims to check the number on the FCA Register to prove their legitimacy.

Anyone considering an investment opportunity should double-check all the details of a firm, not just the FRN, on the FCA register. This includes the telephone number and it is important you only use the number on the FCA Register to make contact with the firm.

Remember, consider seeking impartial advice before investing.

Investors can test if they can spot an investment scam from a smart investment by taking the Scam or Smart quiz, visit www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart to find out more.

If you think you’ve fallen victim to an investment fraud, report it to Action Fraud as soon as possible online at www.actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040."