Fraud Squad – a new documentary series on ITV1- shadows detectives as they investigate one of the biggest share frauds in Britain.
The series follows the hunt for the ringleader and his gang which takes detectives across the playgrounds of Europe. Will they recover the £20 million stolen from British victims before the gang spend it on their lavish lifestyles?
For the first time Fraud Squad shows the challenges British police face in dismantling a global criminal network, and sheds light on the devastating impact fraud has on the British victims.
The two part series from Wild Pictures, makers of acclaimed ITV1 documentaries Strangeways, Smugglers and Wormwood Scrubs, reveals how organised crime has moved into the financial markets, and how criminal gangs prey on vulnerable people to coerce them into buying fake shares in fictitious companies.
With unique access to the City of London Police’s specialist fraud investigations department, the films follow their meticulous operations to bring the multi-million pound fraudsters to justice.
Victims of the fraudsters talk about how they have seen their life savings disappear, like 91 year old John Learmonth who lost more than £100,000. John’s savings were there to help pay for the care of his disabled wife.
John says: “No human being should be allowed to inflict this on somebody else. They’re despicable. They out there to make money out of people at any price or at any discomfort to the other person.”
More than three million people in Britain have become victims to an ever growing number of mass marketing scams. The gangs’ most lucrative enterprise is Boiler Room fraud. People are conned into buying worthless shares in fictitious companies. Some victims lose their homes, others have committed suicide.
The City of London Police Economic Crime Department has identified 1,200 Boiler Rooms making criminal gangs more than £300 million a year.
Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Head warns: “They will bleed people dry, they will keep on pressurising them until they have got absolutely everything they can. There are tens of thousands of victims of this kind of crime out there in the UK.”
The gangs run their operations from Spain, cold calling from anonymous offices, using high pressure sales techniques and intimidation.
Detective Inspector James Clancy explains how they target their victims: “They steal share lists from companies, and they just go through the list and see if they can get people to buy. The shares are of no value, and then the funds are just gone. In the simplest form it is just straight forward theft.”
The gangs mirror international corporations using slick websites, glossy brochures and mass market emails to convince investors their product is real. It lures in thousands of victims a year. Judges, accountants and even former police officers have been conned.
Detective Chief Inspector David Clark says: “It’s callous, It’s calculated. They hide behind a telephone call, a website and very rare do they ever come out and actually meet their victims.”
Fraud Squad follows the 18 month investigation into 30 year old George Abrue and his criminal associates. Abrue’s operation is truly global. He has numerous false identities, has laundered his cash with the help of corrupt bankers and has criminals working for him across Europe. His fraud fuels his lavish lifestyle.
DI James Clancy says: “He’s driving Maserati’s and Ferrari’s. He’s got a £4 million house in Sweden. He has got a property portfolio in Spain. I can see millions of pounds moving through his accounts.”
Criminal gangs share the lists of people they have conned. It leads to repeat victimisation. Detectives are present when victim John Learmonth receives a phone call and menacing demand from another Boiler Room.
“This has given me a shock. I haven’t got the same confidence as I had. I have discussed it very little with my wife. I don’t want her worried and bothered about it. Whether we will get our money back or a small portion of it, I don’t know?”
For DCS Steve Head it’s a familiar picture: “Once you have been identified as a victim you will find that your details are being traded like another commodity.”
Sheila Wright Hogeland lost hundreds of thousands of pounds to a Boiler Room.
“I have lost virtually everything I had, and virtually everything my mother had, it’s all gone. I can’t pay any bills, I’m going to lose my home, I have been here for twenty years. They have taken our livelihood.
“I feel guilty, I feel ashamed that I was taken in. I’m not an unintelligent person. I said to the police I acted completely out of character in doing this. But they said every single victim has said that, and that’s a reflection not so much on the victims but on the perpetrators, that they are so cunning. The people who perpetrate this are evil, they are cowardly. I think they must be sociopaths, they obviously don’t care about the consequences for anybody.”
Detectives discover Abrue built his criminal network around a group of close friends he met in Northumbria. His wife Sarah Robson launders the victims’ money and is addicted to the high life of Champagne, Louis Vuitton and five star holidays. The best man at Abrue’s wedding Sam Hamid and his friends run the Boiler Rooms from Spain and Majorca.
Fraud Squad trails detectives as they launch simultaneous raids across Europe to arrest and dismantle Abrue’s criminal enterprise. As the gang members are brought into custody, the ringleader manages to slip through the net.
Detectives devise a cunning trap to entice Abrue out of hiding. They secretly use his wife’s mobile phone to text him and lure him to Copenhagen airport for arrest.
DCI David Clark says: “Sometimes to catch a deviant you have got to be a deviant.”
Computers and mobile phones seized from the gang members provide vital clues to the fraud. The gang’s vanity has been their undoing. Cataloging the trappings of their wealth, they’ve taken pictures of their top of the range cars, designer clothes and expensive jewelry.
DCI David Clark says: “They are taken over by Boiler rooms and they are almost brainwashed by the money they can earn. It is the greed of money that drives the crime, and that takes over all of their conscientiousness about how they actually hurt the victim and the tragedies they are causing in the UK.”
In Spain, Detectives try to recover the stolen money for the victims. But assets were not a priority for the gang, lifestyle was. Ringleader Abrue spent £100,000 in just one weekend flying friends from around the world to his birthday party.
The detectives have the tough job of telling the victims where all their money has gone.
Detective Inspector Dave Manley explains: “For them it is over, it is finished and they will just live in poverty. A lot of them won’t work again because they are all retired, so they don’t have the ability to build up another nest egg, another lot of life’s saving, buy another property. So each day when they wake up it will be one of the things they realise because their lives have changed forever.”