There are some con artists who, it seems, never give up despite the repeated attentions of the media and, presumably, the authorities.
Take Dr Benjamin Lawson, whose doctorate I suspect to be as fake as the rest of his purported profile as ‘the Foreign Service manager of Zenith Financial Management’. This is a claim that may come as a surprise to a blameless company of independent financial advisers in Aberdeen.
Benjamin is in the habit of writing to people up and down the country to announce their good fortune in being awarded sizeable cash prizes ‘from the Postcode Lottery bid award International program’.
The letterhead boasts the logo of the People’s Postcode Lottery, which is real if a little less famous than the National Lottery, and in the example I’ve seen, an address at Zenith House, 429 Canada Square, London, E15 5FW. This does not exist. There is a Zenith House: a development of smart new apartments in Colindale, north London. And there’s a Canada Square in Canary Wharf, which is in E14.
In the case of my mother-in-law, who lives in Carlisle, her share of a £45m pot amounted to £325,000. Tempting? Possibly. One snag, though. She has never knowingly purchased a ticket from the People’s Postcode Lottery. Benjamin has an answer to that.
‘Participants in this programme [at least now he’s corrected the spelling, but read on for more simple errors of English usage] were randomly selected by computer from database of the Electoral roll resident in the United Kingdom, winners in different categories emerged by computer random selection from pool of over 12 million names.’
My mother-in-law and the recipients of similar letters are invited to ring Benjamin to arrange ‘the processing and remittance of your money’. She decided not to take up the kind offer, but I couldn’t resist calling the number given in the letter for this self-proclaimed ‘Government-license Lottery Service Agency’. The letter says the company ‘has been marketing NationalLotteries to subscribers for over 23 years. Acting as agents on behalf of Lottery players around the world, ZFM makes it possible’. That must be when the ink or the imagination ran out. For the sentence ends in mid-stream of consciousness.
Somewhere in inner London, Benjamin answered the phone call to his number, 0207 060 5543. What usually happens next is that he invites you to send money to cover the processing costs of claiming your prize. Say £200. Pay up and, of course, nothing ever arrives. Benjamin pockets your money and moves on to his next phone number before you think to call the police or trading standards.
He told me he was with a ‘client’ who was making background noises that sounded uncannily like a small child, but would call back if I left my number. I declined, pointing out that he was known up and down the country to newspapers and trading standards officers for misrepresenting himself as an agent of the People’s Postcode Lottery and for attempting fraud. Curiously enough, he put the phone down when challenged about his scam.
So what do Cumbria trading standards say? Well, I reported the letter to the Citizens Advice helpline that now fields calls to this service. The call handler, Jon, seemed quite keen not to prejudge Benjamin’s blatant criminality. Must be the British sense of fair play. Case number noted, he suggested a call to Action Fraud, ‘the UK’s national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre’. Oh, another call centre. I lost patience after making two calls totalling about 10 mins. These were spent in a queue listening to the repeated message that Action Fraud can’t help to recover any money but trained agents will advise you on the next steps to take. Sounds more like Inaction Fraud.
From their quotes in previous news stories, the People’s Postcode Lottery are, rightly, heartily sick of having to explain that they have nothing to do with such letters.
And that’s where the matter rests. My mother-in-law’s too smart to be fooled, but others may be more vulnerable to this type of crime. There must be money in it, or the scams would not be worth the price of postage or paper. And because the sums stolen are individually small, there’s little chance of putting anyone behind bars.
There are variations on the theme. Sometimes the writer is one Baron Wheels, president, though of what isn’t clear. His agents include Anthony Stan or Martin Adams, on phone numbers with 0203 codes. So it’s like those famous letters from Nigeria, encouraging recipients to indulge in a little profitable money laundering. It’s too good to be true and you’ll lose money. And the criminals? They’ll be gone with the wind.