Richard Branson targeted in $5m charity scam

  • 19/10/2017
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 23:  Sir Richard Branson visits "Cavuto" On FOX Business Network at FOX Studios on September 23, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty

Billionaire Richard Branson has revealed he was targeted by a fraudster posing as Britain's defence minister, trying to get him to contribute US$5 million (NZ$7 million) to a supposed secret ransom payment.

Appealing for information to help identify the conman, Mr Branson said he suspected the same person had later impersonated him to steal US$2 million (NZ$2.8 million) from a friend of his by pretending to raise funds for people affected by Hurricane Irma.

Mr Branson wrote that six months ago, after an elaborate set-up involving a note on fake government notepaper, he spoke on the phone to someone purporting to be Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.

The man told Mr Branson that a British diplomat had been kidnapped and was being held for ransom by terrorists.

He said that while the government did not pay ransoms, there was a particularly sensitive reason why the diplomat had to be saved, and the government was confidentially asking a syndicate of British business people to step in.

"I was asked to contribute $5 million of the ransom money, which he assured me the British government would find a way of paying back," Mr Branson wrote.

Feeling suspicious, Mr Branson checked with the government and was told that Mr Fallon had not spoken to him. The matter was reported to the police.

Six months on, Mr Branson learnt that a friend, whom he described as a very successful businessman in the United States, had been called by a conman posing as him.

"When the call happened, the conman did an extremely accurate impression of me and spun a big lie about urgently needing a loan while I was trying to mobilise aid in the BVI (British Virgin Islands)," he wrote.

Mr Branson owns a small island in the BVI archipelago which was devastated by Hurricane Irma.

"They claimed I couldn't get hold of my bank in the UK because I didn't have any communications going to Europe and I'd only just managed to make a satellite call to the businessman in America," Mr Branson wrote.

"The business person, incredibly graciously, gave $2 million, which promptly disappeared."