12:00PM, Thursday 23 February 2017
A retired couple from Maidenhead were left tens of thousands of pounds out of pocket after falling victim to an international email scam.
The nightmare began in September 2015 when the husband and wife from Cox Green, whose names have been changed to protect their identities, decided to sell a property they had rented out for several years after the husband’s 93-year-old father passed away in 2007.
Most of the correspondence with the conveyancer in charge of the sale took place by email, but unbeknown to wife Pauline, 71, her email had been hacked.
The fraudster emailed the conveyancer on their behalf days before the sale was due to be completed asking if the money could be transferred into a different account.
The couple were not immediately concerned as they thought it might take a few days for the proceeds of the £309,000 sale to go through.
After contacting the conveyancer three days later they realised what had happened and contacted Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre.
The couple sued the conveyancer for a lack of ‘duty of care’ and spent 15 months battling for a reasonable settlement offer.
The husband, Michael, 72, said: “It cost us over £10,000 in court fees.”
The conveyancer had to admit it made a mistake as it never called to confirm the new bank account details.
Michael and Pauline eventually settled for 82 per cent of the original amount, after seeking advice from their solicitor, but were still around £50,000 out of pocket in total.
To add insult to injury, the HMRC asked the couple to pay capital gains tax on the original amount.
After the couple challenged the HMRC it eventually agreed to let them pay capital gains on the settlement figure.
The hacker was traced to Nigeria and several individuals from the Netherlands were involved in moving the stolen money.
Between them they transferred the stolen money first to a TSB account, then in smaller amounts between 22 others over a period of about 12 hours.
One man from the Netherlands has been convicted and another was charged but later escaped.
A spokesman for Hertfordshire Police, who coordinated the enquiry, said: “Adjarho Akpomedaye, aka Dele Desmond, was arrested by us in December 2015 and then failed to answer his bail.
“At the time of his arrest the level of Akpomedaye’s offending was unknown and it is only with the subsequent investigation that the scale of his offending has been established.
“He is believed to be responsible for running a network of bank accounts through which almost £1million of fraudulently obtained funds have been laundered.
“These frauds appear to originate in Nigeria or other West African countries and are committed against UK-based victims.
“The accounts in question are opened in the names of Dutch nationals who are flown into the UK for the sole purpose of establishing these false financial identities.
“The evidence shows that Akpomedaye and a Dutch male named Atwel Angel are responsible for sourcing these ‘mules’, flying them into the UK and then supervising them whilst they open bank accounts.
“Once all this has been done these individuals are returned to the Netherlands whilst Akpomedaye retained control of their financial identities.
“Atwel Angel was arrested on July 27, 2016, in Liverpool when he flew into the UK to take part in a sham immigration interview, where he was claiming to be the husband of another Nigerian woman.
“Angel was convicted in January 2017 and is serving a 12-month sentence prior to his deportation.
“Akpomedaye is still at large, either in the UK or overseas.”
Pauline added: “I rang TSB to ask why they didn’t query such a large transaction but they said they couldn’t talk to me because I wasn’t an account holder due to data protection.”
A TSB spokesperson said: “We are continually monitoring accounts for suspicious activity and take in a number of considerations, not just the amount involved.
“Financial crime can be sophisticated and complex and we are continually refining our systems and, like any bank, we unfortunately cannot prevent all frauds.
“Customer safety and security is our number one priority and we do everything possible to prevent fraud. We are continually improving our fraud controls and work with the wider industry to tackle fraud.”
The couple eventually got the settlement figure back in December 2016 and their legal costs back last month.
Michael said: “We don’t have any bad feeling towards the conveyancer; they’re victims as well.
“We just want other people to be aware, all it would have taken was a phone call to prevent the entire thing from happening.
“We recommend that people change their password on a regular basis.”
A spokeswoman for Action Fraud offered the following advice:
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