Billionaire Sir Richard Branson has sounded an alarm on con artists who he said have been using the hurricane-struck British Virgin Islands (BVI) as a way to dupe unsuspecting donors out of their money.
Branson said US$2 million already has been heisted by persons who claimed the funds were being donated to BVI communities.
He claimed that the money was stolen by a scammer pretending to be him, adding that the victim was a United States businessman.
“The conman did an extremely accurate impression of me and spun a big lie about urgently needing a loan while I was trying to mobilise aid in the BVI. They claimed I couldn’t get hold of my bank in the UK because I didn’t have any communications going to Europe and I’d only just managed to make a satellite call to the businessman in America. The business person, incredibly graciously, gave $2 million, which promptly disappeared,” Branson explained.
The victim of the scam reportedly said he did not know he was tricked until he called Branson weeks later.
“They asked me when I would be returning the three-week loan I had asked for to help the BVI communities. I had no idea what they were talking about,” Branson said.
He further stated that he also has been targeted by scammers. In his case, Branson said he received a call from a person pretending to be Secretary of State for Defense in the United Kingdom, Sir Michael Fallon.
The impersonator told Branson that a British diplomat had been kidnapped and that the United Kingdom needed a $5 million loan to help pay the ransom.
“Although the Sir Michael I spoke to sounded exactly like [the real] Sir Michael, I was understandably cautious. After I had asked one of my lawyers to go to Whitehall, I rang Downing Street and asked to be put through to Sir Michael’s office. His secretary assured me that Sir Michael hadn’t spoken to me and that nobody had been kidnapped. It was clearly a scam,” Branson today told the public via his Virgin website.
He further explained: “There has been a big rise in fake ad scams online recently, and I’d urge everyone to look out for them and report any you see. It’s not just online it can happen; it could be on the phone or even in person.”
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