Richard Branson nearly lost £4mn to con-artist posing as Defense Secretary Michael Fallon
The fraudster, who spoke to Branson on the phone and sounded “exactly like” Fallon, tried to persuade him the money was needed to pay the ransom for a British diplomat who had been kidnapped.
Branson was suspicious, however, and rang the real Fallon’s office on another line.
The con was revealed in Branson’s blog on Tuesday.
“Six months ago my assistant received a written note on what appeared to be official government notepaper from the Secretary of State for Defense Sir Michael Fallon, requesting an urgent call with me,” he wrote.
“He asked that we speak in strict confidence and said that a British diplomat had been kidnapped and was being held by terrorists.
“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.”
Branson was assured the government would pay him back. He said he was “understandably cautious,” however, so rang the real Fallon’s office via Downing Street and was assured by his secretary that no one had been kidnapped.
While that attempt failed, another succeeded. Branson said a business friend of his in the US had been persuaded to part with $2 million to someone pretending to be the Virgin boss.
After Hurricane Irma, Branson received an email from a business acquaintance in the US asking when he would be returning a three-week loan he asked for to help with the British Virgin Island communities.
He said he soon realized his friend had been conned, probably by the same person.
“He has spent his life being cautious and told me he couldn’t believe how stupid he had been. He is an incredibly generous person who gives to all sorts of causes, and it is just too sad for words that of all people it was he who had fallen for it.”
Branson used the examples to show the lengths conmen will go to and warn others to take care.