It turns out brazen criminals target even the world's most rich and powerful.
Sir Richard Branson has revealed two instances of conmen targeting himself and associates in his personal blog.
The Virgin Group founder was first approached six months ago, by a conman posing as Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon.
His secretary assured me that Sir Michael hadn’t spoken to me and that nobody had been kidnapped. — Sir Richard Branson
“[Fallon] asked that we speak in strict confidence and said that a British diplomat had been kidnapped and was being held by terrorists,” Branson wrote in his blog.
“He told me that British laws prevented the government from paying out ransoms, which he normally completely concurred with. But he said on this occasion there was a particular, very sensitive, reason why they had to get this diplomat back.
“So they were extremely confidentially asking a syndicate of British businesspersons to step in. I was asked to contribute $5 million dollars of the ransom money, which he assured me the British government would find a way of paying back.”
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) October 17, 2017
Fortunately for the billionaire Brit, he had been made aware of fraudulent activity in the week prior, and wasn’t about to dive in head first.
“Although the Sir Michael I spoke to sounded exactly like 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. I told them what had happened and we passed the matter over to the police.”
Fraudsters take advantage of Hurricane Irma devastation
In the second instance, con artists used the wrath of Hurricane Irma — which tore through the British Virgin Islands and forced Sir Richard to bunker down in the wine cellar of his Necker Island home — to steal millions from a close associate of his.
“I received an email from a friend in the US. A very successful businessperson, they asked me when I would be returning the three week loan I had asked for to help the [British Virgin Islands] communities. I had no idea what they were talking about,” he wrote.
When the call happened the conman did an extremely accurate impression of me and spun a big lie about urgently needing a loan.
“They told me that they had received an email from somebody claiming they were my assistant, to arrange a call with me. 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 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.
“I spoke to the business person and had to tell him specific details of our last get-together before he was convinced it was really me and not the conman. We quickly realised he had been duped out of his money by a criminal pretending to be me.”