A DUTCH fraudster stole the identity of a leading financial advisor to con tens of thousands of euros out of a British expat.
Operating in Malaga, the con-artist assumed the identity of a fund manager Harvey Sidhu at BlackRock – a globally recognised firm in London – even including an almost identical email address.
The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority has now put a warning out on the scam following the Olive Press’s intervention.
It comes after retired businessman Mervyn Hopkins, who lives with his wife Cathy and children near Valencia, lost ‘tens of thousands of euros’ before realising he was being scammed.
He only rumbled the con when he was about to place another €10,000 into the investment fund and noticed that the account details were slightly different from previous times.
Then, after confirming the ruse from the real BlackRock company, he attempted to turn the tables on his scammer claiming he needed to withdraw money due to illness.
However, after weeks of tense negotiation, the pretend BlackRock employee clammed up and inevitably failed to follow through on his promise to return the money.
The person behind the fake blackrockfundmanagers.com email account has been idenitified as a Dutch expat living in Marbella. He has been implicated in fraud before.
“The scam is very clever, there was nothing else I could have done to have discovered this was a fraud,” said Mr Hopkins, who lives off a portfolio of assets and the sale of his UK online computer business.
He initially received a call from a ‘Harvey Sidhu’, fund manager at BlackRock, after filling out an online form to find investment suggestions.
Both the registration number for Sidhu and the company were legitimate and the company is well-known, so Mr Hopkins proceeded to invest in this ‘brilliant fund’.
However, the stocks – in an American technology supermarket – predictably plummeted in January.
But this didn’t stop ‘Sidhu’ from persuading him that all was not lost and that he should invest in another UK fund from Blackrock – an actual legitimate fund, which can even be tracked online.
Not only was Mr Hopkins in regular contact with ‘Sidhu’, he was receiving a monthly performance evaluation email from the ‘director of operations’ at Blackrock – John Hogg.
But after noticing the change in the account address, he couldn’t get through to Harvey so contacted the head office to check with John Hogg.
“Hogg told me he would never email clients and that it was done by others. He then went to talk to Harvey who said he didn’t know my name and hadn’t dealt with me.”
“We both started to panic.”
Together they have traced the IP address on the fake Harvey’s emails to a property just outside Malaga.
But after filing the case with the Spanish national police and interpol, he continued to play along with ‘Harvey’ as if nothing were wrong.
He then phoned him and explained that he had lost everything and would ‘unfortunately need to withdraw all of his money’.
Bizarrely, the imposter continued contact and agreed to this, promising to release the money. However, after several delays he disappeared and has not made contact again.
This week BlackRock told the Olive Press: “We are working with the regulator to help assist them eradicate these kinds of scams.”
“This is a ‘clone firm’; and fraudsters usually use this tactic when contacting people out of the blue, so you should be especially wary if you have been cold called.
“They may use the name of the genuine firm, the ‘firm reference number’ or other details.”
The case is currently being investigated by the UK police and the Financial Conduct Authority has published a specific warning regarding the scam.