Page last updated at 06:33 GMT, Monday, 20 April 2009 07:33 UK

Scam healers prey on vulnerable

An advert for a 'spiritual healer'
The majority of Asian magazines and newspapers feature adverts for spiritual healers

By Mark Daly
BBC Scotland investigations correspondent

Police are warning about a scam involving bogus spiritual healers who are conning thousands of pounds out of vulnerable people.

Posing as holy men, they prey on Britain's religious Asian community and those facing hardship or health trouble, and falsely promise to solve their problems in return for large sums of money.

Look in almost any Asian newspaper or glossy magazine and you will find advert after advert for spiritual healers, or peers.

It's an industry which is condemned by mainstream religions, including Islam, but is thriving nonetheless.

I was contacted more than a year ago by someone, who we'll call Mohammed, who put his faith in one of these men after seeing an advert in his daily newspaper.

He told the BBC: "I had a problem, a family problem, and I saw the advert for Haji Imam. It said he could solve any problem within three days."

Mohammed, a Glasgow taxi driver, called the number in the advert.

Mark Daly speaks to Mohammed
Mohammed said he was threatened when he confronted Haji Imam

The man on the end of the phone said he could help him, and all Mohammed had to do was send some personal items including a lock of hair and a toenail, along with £130 in cash in a jiffy bag and send it recorded delivery to a PO Box.

"But then he said he was having difficulty with my problem and needed more money, another £750," he said.

"I was desperate to have my problem sorted so I sent it."

And it didn't end there.

Over the next six months, Haji Imam persuaded Mohammed to part with more than £10,000.

When he realised he'd been conned, the so-called holy man turned nasty.

Mohammed said: "Haji Imam said to me, I know you are a taxi driver, if you don't stop phoning me I can make accident for you. I was scared."

I tried to find out this Haji Imam was, and managed to trace his PO Box address to Leicester.

Mustafa Malik, spokesperson for the Islamic centre in Leicester, said that bogus spiritual healers were a disgrace to Islam and that it was a widespread problem in Leicester's Asian community.

Mustafa Malik
Mustafa Malik said the conmen were exploiting vulnerable people

Mr Malik said: "This is a huge industry, in which these men are conning people, simple people, who find themselves in some sort of difficult situation.

"There are some out there who genuinely believe they have healing powers, but they do not charge for it.

"As soon as someone tries to make profit, you can be 100% guaranteed that it is a fraud."

Trading standards told the BBC it was impossible to estimate how big the problem was because people were often too embarrassed or scared to come forward.

However, I learned that Haji Imam was receiving packages almost every day to his PO Box address in Leicester.

I wanted to confront this fraudster, who by now had changed personas and was advertising his services in the same newspaper as Peer Jalal Shah.

'A curse'

I enlisted the help of an Urdu-speaking colleague.

Armed with a completely made up problem about her failure to conceive a male child, she called him up.

And, soon, he was promising to help solve an imaginary problem.

He told her: "By the grace of god everything can be done for you. It is not that this is not in your destiny. It's just that there is a curse upon you.

"By the grace of god … you will conceive a child. And by the grace of god we will also ensure you will have a boy."

For this minor miracle, he wanted the princely sum of £480 deposited in a bank account.

Mark Daly at an address in Leicester
BBC Scotland's Mark Daly tries to speak to Khalid Rafique in Leicester

We sent him nothing, of course, but I learned the name of one of the men behind this scam, Khalid Rafique, an Asian man in his early 30s.

I found out where he lived, and which address he was channelling the money through.

But when I turned up at the addresses - both in Leicester - to confront him, unsurprisingly, no-one was home.

So I decided to contact him in the same way as his victims and simply call him up.

He denied being a conman and demanding money from people, despite the BBC having recorded several phone calls with him in which he did exactly that. He then hung up on me.

The newspaper in which he advertised has told the BBC it will no longer accept his business.

Police have urged anyone who has fallen for this type of scam to get in touch.

The BBC has passed the details of this case to Trading Standards which has pledged to investigate, and we are making our dossier available to the police.


Do you have a story you want me to investigate? Email me at mark.daly@bbc.co.uk



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