The Shetland Times wrote about the oldest scam and fraud in the world.
This can happen to anyone, and it did to an elderly pensioner who lives on the remote Island of Unst.
Unst is literally at the top of the British Isles and is the most Northerly inhabited Island in the UK. Unst is about 2.5 hours drive (55 miles) North of Lerwick via two ferries, measures about 12 miles x 6 miles and has a population of only 600 people.
You wouldn’t expect such a scam to happen in such a remote and trusting community, and it’s a sad story in itself. The Shetland Isles are a small, tight knit community and you would expect the Bank staff to have known this customer. Lerwick is the largest town and only has a population of 7,500 out of 22,000 across all of the Islands.
“A pensioner who was scammed out of thousands of pounds feels so embarrassed he has put off telling his children about his misfortune.
Sheil Khanna, 76, from Unst, has lost more than £3,000 due, he said, to his naivety. But he also blames his bank for their unhelpful attitude and the scammers, who purported to come from Florida.
He wants to warn others not to fall into the same trap.
Mr Khanna built his new house in Westing, Unst, four years ago and later decided to start a small B&B business as a hobby and to meet people. It is not, he said, a “fully fledged” business, but something he operates on a small scale and markets through Visit Scotland in Lerwick.
Recently he received an unusual email from people in “Florida” requesting hospitality in his B&B. They said their expenses would be covered by their company, St Saviour’s Roman Catholic School in Lewisham, London. When Mr Khanna asked for a “small deposit”, the scammers sent a cheque for £4,100 and told Mr Khanna to take what he would be owed and put the remainder back into their bank.
Mr Khanna, whose wife is Roman Catholic, was reassured by the religious connection, and he said: “I thought it was legitimate. I paid the cheque into the bank and it cleared. I paid £3,100 back to the ‘guests’. I was told later that the cheque had bounced.”
This left Mr Khanna out of pocket to the tune of £3,100, with the Bank of Scotland saying there is nothing they can do.
Mr Khanna paid the cheque, which was signed by two signatories, into his account on 4th April. This was done in the mobile Bank of Scotland which comes to Unst.
He rang the bank on Monday 10th and was told the cheque had cleared. He went into Lerwick’s Bank of Scotland on 20th April, 10 days later, and initiated the transfer of £3,100 into the scam account. Once again he was told the cheque had cleared. Days later he got a letter, dated 10th April, from the Bank of Scotland, saying the cheque had been stopped. The letter contained a photocopy of the bounced cheque which had the words “theft recorded” on it.
Mr Khanna said: “The letter was dated 10th April, the same day they told me the cheque cleared.”
He now said he would never be so “naive and trusting” again, and described himself as “old fashioned”. And, he said, he thought that when the bank said the cheque had cleared “they meant it.”
He added: “You’re always wise after the event. Maybe alarm bells should have rung. Now I’m sitting here £3,100 out of pocket and the Bank of Scotland has washed their hands of it. They say it is not their responsibility. I’ve worked hard all my life and to lose £3,100 is a very hard loss. The bank has let me down.”
Now Mr Khanna has written to the Bank of Scotland’s senior manager in Edinburgh and is prepared to take the incident to the financial ombudsman if the affair cannot be settled. Fortunately he has kept all his receipts and correspondence.
He said that most of all he feels “embarrassed” about the events, and cannot even face his children to tell them. He added: “I would hate any other people to become victims.”
LESSONS TO LEARN
There are a few things to learn from this, least of all insofar as if something sounds too good to be true it probably is.
The Bank staff should have been alerted to the fact that an elderly pensioner from Unst had taken the time and trouble to travel to Lerwick to make a wire transfer to an account in Florida on the back of a matching cheque that had recently been paid in to the account and asked some questions. The activity is certainly unusual for a start and alarm bells for money laundering and being scammed should have gone off long before the transaction took place.
Why was the account being used as a conduit? Does this activity match the customer’s profile and behaviour? What is the payment for? Does it smell right?
Also, the gentleman in question rang the Bank twice to ask if the cheque had cleared and he had been assured that it had. The Bank’s processes have failed and we can only hope that they do the right thing.
Scams and fraud are becoming increasingly sophisticated and consumers need to be on their guard at all times. This is the oldest scam and fraud in the world and scams do get recycled.
I have written about Amazon fraud and there are links to other fraud and scams in that feature.
Have you fallen victim to any scams or frauds? What was the outcome?