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In A $5 Million Scam 'Straight Out Of Le Carre', Billionaire Branson Was Targeted

In A $5 Million Scam 'Straight Out Of Le Carre', Billionaire Branson Was Targeted
The billionaire founder of the Virgin group, Richard Branson, has been attempted to be coaxed into making a contribution of $5 million to a supposed secret ransom payment by a fraudster posing as Britain’s defense minister, the flamboyant business tycoon has revealed recently.
Later, a friend of Branson has been stolen of $2 million by a fraudster by pretending to be Branson and appealed to raise funds for people affected by Hurricane Irma and according to him, he suspected that the same person had later impersonated him. Branson also appealed to the public for information to help identify the conman.
“This story sounds like it has come straight out of a John le Carre book or a James Bond film, but it is sadly all true,” Branson wrote in a blog.
Branson is one of Britain’s best-known businessmen and he is instantly recognizable with his wavy blond hair and beard. Ranging from airlines to train companies to telecoms and gyms, the Virgin brand is licensed for use by a range of businesses.
Branson had spoken on the phone to someone purporting to be Defence Secretary Michael Fallon after he had also an elaborate set-up involving a note on fake government notepaper six months ago, he had written earlier.
A British diplomat was being held for ransom by terrorists and had been kidnapped, the man told Branson.
The government was confidentially asking a syndicate of British business people to step in and there was a particularly sensitive reason why the diplomat had to be saved, even though the government did not officially pay ransoms, the man had said.
“I was asked to contribute $5 million of the ransom money, which he assured me the British government would find a way of paying back,” Branson wrote.
Branson was told by the government that Fallon had not spoken to him after Branson checked with the government when he felt suspicious.
Six months after that incident, a conman posing as Branson had called what Branson described as a very successful businessman in the United States, he had learnt.
“When the call happened, the conman did an extremely accurate impression of me and spun a big lie about urgently needing a loan while I was trying to mobilize aid in the BVI (British Virgin Islands),” he wrote.
Devastated by Hurricane Irma was a small island in the BVI archipelago which is well publicized and is owned by Branson. The caller took advantage of that context.
“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,” Branson wrote.
“The business person, incredibly graciously, gave $2 million, which promptly disappeared.”
Fallon’s office was assisting the police in their efforts to try to catch those responsible and he was aware of two attempts, one not involving Branson, to impersonate the minister for illicit gain, a spokesman for Fallon said.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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