AN Army veteran has spoken of his torment after losing £150,000 savings to scammers who were posing as investment brokers.
Tom Johnston, 61, had a 25-year career in the military, specialising in communications with the Royal Signals and Special Forces, and later worked for security companies in the Middle East.
Damien McFadden – The Sun Army veteran Tom Johnston, 61, has spoken of his torment after losing £150,000 savings to scammers who were posing as investment brokers
Tom Johnston, 61, who had a 25-year career in the military, was emailed by fraudsters posing as Cater Allen
But his technical skills and knowledge of security could not save him from a sophisticated scam that cost him his hard-won nest egg.
The ordeal unfolded after he was emailed by fraudsters posing as Cater Allen, which he knew to be the respected private banking arm of his own bank, Santander.
They told him of a lucrative chance to double his money by investing in up-and-coming companies such as Airbnb, which they said were about to float on the stock market.
The emails came from what seemed like official addresses, ending “caterallenltd.com”, and each closed with Santander’s UK head office address, followed by a formal disclosure notice.
Damien McFadden – The Sun Tom Johnston, 61, was approached with news of a lucrative deal by the fraudsters
The crooks sent him the real brochure for Cater Allen and pages of detailed paperwork, full of logos, banking codes and reference numbers (stock image)
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To lend credibility, the crooks sent him the real brochure for Cater Allen and pages of detailed paperwork, full of logos, banking codes and reference numbers.
Tom, from Bedford, also spoke with several men over the phone, building a rapport with one salesman known as Jonathan Forbes, who spoke with a posh English accent.
The Financial Conduct Authority last month warned British people lost almost £200million to investment scams in 2018 (pictured Tom Johnston)
How to beat investment scammersREJECT unsolicited investment offers whether made online, on social media or over the phone.
Before investing, check the FCA Register to see if the firm or individual you are dealing with is authorised and check the FCA Warning List of firms to avoid.
Get impartial advice before investing.
If you’ve lost money in a scam, or have been approached by scammers, contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or www.actionfraud.police.uk.
He said: “It seemed so convincing. They said if the Airbnb shares before floating were going to be 12 dollars, they were predicting they would reach 19 or possibly 24 dollars on flotation, so you’d make money before people even start buying the shares.
“I kept thinking back to many years ago when shares were first made open to the British public, like BT or British Gas. Some of those shares doubled overnight.
“I was hoping my money would creep up to £200,000, which would have given me a nice retirement fund. That looked fairly achievable with the returns they were offering.”
After detailed discussions, Tom invested £104,365.99 of cash into what he thought was Airbnb, and a few months later a further £40,131.99 into a real estate firm called the Newmark Group.
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The first transfer in October 2017 was so large he couldn’t do it using online banking, so he called his bank Santander to move the money. He told the call-centre worker where the money was going and what it would be used for.
Tom claims the banking agent who helped him over the phone moved the cash without warning him about possible fraud, or questioning the bank details he gave them, which they should have known were not for Cater Allen.
In fact, the first tranche of cash was moved to a Santander account operated by scammers, which made Tom think the scam was genuine.
He said there were no warnings over the phone, which the bank has denied. Tom added: “They asked what it was for and I explained it all to them — that it was for shares through the Cater Allen subsidiary, and they went with it.”
Tom claims the banking agent who helped him over the phone moved the cash without warning him about possible fraud
Santander called him to say it believed there was fraudulent activity on his account
The scammers continued to talk to him after getting his cash — sending him an “interim statement” in late December.
It was not until January 2018, while Tom, who has two sons and two grandchildren, was working in Tanzania, that he realised what had happened.
His bank card was declined at an ATM, and on contacting Santander it told him this was because his account was linked to fraud.
Santander called him to say it believed there was fraudulent activity on his account.
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After investigating, the bank said it was his fault as he had authorised the payments. Tom, who served in Northern Ireland, the first Gulf War and Falklands, added: “The bank has washed its hands of it. It’s a life-changing sum and, since losing it, I’ve been in dark places thinking that’s the rest of my life gone. I was going to use it to pay off my mortgage and help my son get on the property ladder.”
Tom, who has three degrees in psychology and management, now works as a security manager for a private estate and has vowed to keep on battling for his cash.
The Met police said it had reports of 19 people falling victim to the scam, and a man in his 30s from London has been arrested on suspicion of money laundering offences.
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He has been released under investigation pending ongoing enquiries.
A spokesman for Santander said: “We have the deepest sympathy for Mr Johnston and those who fall victim to scams. Mr Johnson was read a scam warning and called back by Santander staff to confirm transactions. His claim is being reviewed by the Financial Ombudsman Service.”
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The Financial Conduct Authority last month warned British people lost almost £200million to investment scams in 2018.
It said fraudsters were using increasingly sophisticated tactics to persuade victims to invest, with more people targeted online.
The fake Cater Allen website — caterallenltd.com — was still up and running this week, but taken down after The Sun contacted the FCA.