Page last updated at 07:56 GMT, Thursday, 16 February 2006

Even the savvy get scammed

People looking at adverts
Don't always believe the adverts
The Office of Fair Trading is running a month-long campaign to highlight the dangers of sophisticated scams. Two victims of scams tell the BBC News website how they fell victim and explain the lessons they learnt.

Both men were caught out by print advertisements.

Steve Maunsell invested 64,000 in a scrap metal business that didn't exist, while Vadim Yekelchik ended up taking a bogus interpreting firm to court.

Their experience suggests intelligent people are just as susceptible to an elaborate hoax as anyone else.

THE 64,000 SCRAPS

Five years ago, Steve Maunsell, 43, returned to Manchester from working in Saudi Arabia, keen to have a break from printing.

"I saw an advert in the Manchester Evening News for an investor/partner, which I answered, and I met this guy a couple of weeks later.

"If he had said black was white you would've believed him - he was that convincing. He said he had been bankrupt and that was the reason he couldn't go to the bank for money."

Alarm bells began to ring
Steve Maunsell

The fraudster said he was bidding to buy decommissioned coal-fired power stations, to sell the scrap metal. He even showed Mr Maunsell a place where he said he was stripping copper.

He promised to double the money of investors within 18 months. In fact, he was using the cash he swindled to fund a millionaire lifestyle.

Mr Maunsell paid him 64,000 and, deceptively, immediately got some returns.

"Early on it was quite good. I was getting about four or five-thousand a month. But then he would go missing for about a month and I'd have to chase him up. Alarm bells began to ring."

When Mr Maunsell approached the man in person to ask him what was happening, he was assaulted.

Scrap metal
Steve's scrap metal dream never materialised
But he soon discovered from the police that there were about 25 other victims, who had been scammed out of a total of about 800,000.

Eventually, the fraudster was tracked down and sentenced to five years in prison. But Mr Maunsell is still owed 25,000.

"There are people getting hit every day. At least I could get myself moving on to other things but there are people with life savings gone who can never work again. They've lost everything.

"I did no checks on him at all and should never have taken him at his word. I could have bought a house with that money and I'm annoyed with myself now.

"But if I can be gullible then so can other people and I say to them, 'Do 1,001 checks and don't get involved with anything unless it's genuine.'

"And if it's too good to be true, then it probably is."

A MATTER OF INTERPRETATION

Vadim Yekelchik, 33, responded to an advert in a magazine from a company offering a job as a freelance interpreter.

When he went for an interview he did a short test, which was to translate a short article.

After that they said he first needed to do a course that they provided.

Vadim Yekelchik
I consider myself quite a careful person and they tricked me quite easily
"They promised a certificate afterwards and said the course was free but to make sure I worked with them afterwards, I had to pay a 100 deposit refundable after six months.

"They showed me the contract, which looked legal, and took me to their office in central London.

"It was impressive, lots of people, lots of computers and faxes and it was quite busy."

They even produced recommendations from other companies where they said they provided interpreters, complete with recognisable letterheads.

Mr Yekelchik noted that the contract stipulated the money was fully refundable and so he went on the course, which was one day a week for four weeks.

Office
An office does not guarantee authenticity
But it was nothing like he expected - there was no coursework and no homework.

His suspicions aroused, he asked them how they could issue certificates without formal assessment, and they said it was a certificate of attendance.

No-one contacted him afterwards and no certificate appeared. No-one else on the course got employment either, and some were persuaded to invest 5,000 to become "franchise members" of the company.

When six months had elapsed, Mr Yekelchik called the company to demand his money back and they invited him for talks.

Instead he went to the county court and made a claim, which prompted them to send a 100 cheque, which bounced.

He went back to court but the firm had disappeared.

"In future I would research more about the company. It's easy to do this on the internet or contact the Office of Fair Trading.

"I believed them because it was so clever. I consider myself quite a careful person and they tricked me quite easily, so it shows the scammers are quite intelligent people.

"Sometimes people are too embarrassed to admit they've been tricked because it's not nice but I don't care."



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