Matt Allwright uncovers sophisticated scams. He visits Michael and Hilary, whose attempts to sell their timeshare have put them at the mercy of scam artists.
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Every year, conmen and scam artists net an estimated £3.5 billion from us, the British public.
They don't care how they do it or how much damage they cause,
they only really care about one thing, how much cash they can get.
Coming up... The couple sucked into a sophisticated holiday scam.
I can't deal with this any more. This is making me ill.
And the car insurance fraudsters who put innocent lives at risk.
So I slammed on the brakes, of course, not quick enough.
And ran into the back of him.
Well, I'm here to tell you what the conman doesn't want you to know,
how to stay one step ahead of the game and not get scammed.
Timeshare has often been a byword for consumer nightmares
yet almost half a million Brits own one.
Do you know, there are many people who have bought timeshares
and have been perfectly happy with them.
However, there are also thousands who are stuck in timeshare contracts
that they are desperate to get out of
and it's them that scam artists are targeting right now
with a whole range of ingenious
and sophisticated scams that make people's lives a misery.
Known as resale scams, they target people who are desperate
to sell their timeshare and agencies like the National Fraud Authority
are receiving huge numbers of complaints.
We know of tens of thousands of people who've been affected
and have lost together hundreds of millions of pounds.
Timeshare resale scams are on the rise
as more and more people try to sell up.
There are a lot of people who are now desperate to get rid of their timeshare.
They find it's a millstone round their neck,
mainly because of maintenance fees and maintenance fees increasing.
If perhaps they have grown older
and don't want to travel to the same destination
or go on holiday at all, they find they have this obligation to pay
these fees year after year and they want to get rid of the timeshare.
Michael and Hillary know this feeling all too well,
after having spent the last six years trying to get rid of a timeshare they bought in 1998.
-So this all started with a holiday or an idea for a holiday, is that right?
We had an invitation to attend a presentation
and so we went along to it saying,
"We're not going to enter into anything.
"We're not going to sign up into anything."
And we came away having signed up for a timeshare with a canal boat in the Midlands.
In addition to that, they'd be able to exchange
weeks on the canal boat for weeks abroad,
giving them the flexibility to take holidays wherever they wanted.
The icing on the cake was that their grown-up children could use it too,
which was a major selling point for Hillary.
You almost in a way, I start to say,
"Yes. I can see it would be really nice to have a holiday
"and it would be good for the children to tap into this whenever they wanted to."
Mike, what was more important to you during that meeting,
the fact that you got a good deal
or the fact that Hillary came out happy?
I think I've got to honestly say that it was that Hillary came out happy.
They signed up to the timeshare for £6,000
and were soon packing their suitcases for a holiday abroad.
But in 2003, five years after Michael
and Hillary had bought their timeshare, the novelty had worn off.
It became apparent to us very quickly
that it wasn't quite the holidays that we wanted.
If you want to get rid of your timeshare, the first thing you
probably do is go back to the people you bought it from or the resort
and try and sell it back but they don't want you to give the keys back.
It is more valuable for them to keep you pay the maintenance fees
and it is difficult for them to sell.
There is not much of a second hand market in timeshare.
We couldn't sell the holiday back to the company
and from what I can recall, their comment was,
"There are plenty of companies out there that will handle that for you."
The couple didn't know where to start.
Then they received a phone call that seemed to offer the solution.
You might get a cold call from someone who says
they can sell your timeshare.
The catch is they will ask you to pay an upfront fee,
to put it in their listings.
Initially they asked for, erm, about 130 euros
or something like that so it wasn't a great deal.
From that money, did you see any evidence
-of them marketing your timeshare?
The company had taken Michael and Hillary's money
and seen to have given them nothing in return.
But another cold call offered another ray of hope.
A new variation that we see of this resale scam
is to actually invite you to a presentation,
like the ones you probably went to
when they sold you your timeshare in the first place,
to sell timeshares to new owners.
This chap, with all the noise of the presentation behind, said,
"We've got a couple who want to buy into it.
"If you let us have your credit card details,
"we can do the required paperwork for you."
I can remember running to you.
-You were at a Scout meeting, weren't you?
Running excitedly saying, "We've sold it! We've sold it!
"All we need is the credit card."
-You sold it but they want payment from you.
The company took £495 from Michael and Hillary
and then the buyers mysteriously fell through.
The couple had lost over £600 trying to sell their timeshare
and were feeling increasingly frustrated.
You just want rid of it.
I can remember you saying that, "What other options do we have? We've got to try and go with this."
But the cold calls kept coming through,
each one seeming to offer a possible solution.
Michael and Hillary were now on what's rather unkindly called a suckers list.
These lists are sold around the criminal fraternity in Spain
and the Canary Islands and other people target you.
'As if to prove the point, whilst I am talking to Michael and Hillary,
the phone rings.
'It's another timeshare resale company so I pretend to be Michael.'
They are updating their records
but keen to get the couple off the suckers list,
I tell him the timeshare has been sold.
Speak to you soon. Bye-bye.
-So have you heard from those guys before?
-Never. Never heard of them before.
It just goes to show, scammers never give up
if they think they can get more of your money.
I am becoming so stressed by the whole thing
that I don't want to know any more.
You know, and instead of possibly being more supportive,
I'm saying, "You handle it. I can't deal with this any more. This is making me ill."
In the end, there were about four or even five different companies that
I paid money to in order to get rid of this timeshare
that we no longer want and no longer need.
If you are desperate to sell something, you will
look for increasingly desperate measures and therefore,
you are more likely to be taken in by the sales person,
by that phone call.
And the scammers were now ready with a new tactic.
We were invited to a presentation
that would buy our timeshare from us,
but in order to do so,
we would have to buy into their holiday scheme.
And this was another classic con, known as the Holiday Club scam.
Although not all holiday clubs are bogus, sadly, many are,
and they make promises they simply can't keep.
You won't have the ongoing liabilities, the maintenance fees,
year in year out, but would you will have,
you will continue to have
holidays but anywhere in the world now, through their holiday club,
with only a very small annual charge of 20 or £30.
Signing up to the Holiday Club would mean writing out yet another cheque,
but the salesmen knew it was just what to say.
You're not going to have to have, pay any charge at all with this,
because they are going to sell you, at the same time,
what they call a reclaim certificate.
A type of way of insuring, guaranteeing,
you're going to get all your money back in five years.
The salesman told Michael and Hillary
they could do this by investing funds in the stock market
and the couple were persuaded to sign up.
-How much money are we talking here?
The following year, the owner of the company who made these promises
was convicted on 11 counts of fraud.
The couple knew they had been scammed
and it was Michael who was taking the brunt of the stress.
I think he probably feels, because he's not been able to deal with it
and handle it, that in some way he may have failed, let us down.
And I'm all the more feeling bad that I got us into this
in the first place and caused such a lot of stress for him, too.
We've been through Holiday Club, we've been through the point
where you think you have sold your timeshare.
-Is that the end of it? Can you finally draw a line under it?
A company came along
offering to help us get our money back
from those companies that had scammed us and that we paid our money to.
Incredibly the company claimed to be a firm of lawyers
who were investigating timeshare scams.
They might have all the information,
that you'd expect an investigator to have,
because they scammed you in the first place.
And they came back to me saying, "OK, we've got everything set up now,
"and what we need is some money to pay for the translation, the documents,
"cos all these have to be gone through the Spanish courts,
"not the UK courts."
This money we'd get back afterwards.
In a last-ditch attempt to salvage something from the situation,
Hillary and Michael parted with another £2,000.
But yet again they'd been deceived by vicious conmen
who'd now spent five years trying to take the couple
for every penny possible.
How much has it cost you?
'You may wonder how Michael and Hillary could possibly have handed over such large sums of money,
'but the conmen behind these scams were cold and calculating.
'I think they saw something in Michael and Hillary that kept them coming back for more.'
I think it's the fact that you really care for each other
that is the centre of why they've been allowed to carry on
doing it for so long.
Cos we wanted the best for each other, I suppose.
-And for your family.
-And for the family.
And the horrible thing about this is that you end up feeling guilty
-and like you've done something wrong.
But you haven't. All you've got to do is say, "It's happened,
"and we love each other and we'll stop now,"
and that's it, and draw a line, move on.
Michael and Hillary's story shows just how far
timeshare scammers are prepared to go,
so how can you avoid the conmen's clever traps?
If you're selling a timeshare there are two golden rules to follow.
First of all to be realistic about the price you're going to get.
There's a limited second-hand market for timeshare,
which means you're only likely to get a fraction of what you paid
in the first place.
The second golden rule is,
don't go with any agency who wants a fee upfront.
If they can sell your timeshare then ask to pay them afterwards,
so they can get a cut.
Sadly, this advice is too late for Michael and Hillary,
who were targeted in a ruthless and calculated way.
Scams play on human nature and the way people are.
The worst ones play on the most positive parts of human nature.
but actually on the stuff that glues us all together.
That really is very, very helpful.
Nobody wants to be in a car accident.
Even a little prang can be traumatic.
But if you've had one in the last couple of years, it might not be all it seems.
Every year car insurance claims in the UK amount
to an amazing £8.7 billion.
These claims can be for anything,
from accident damage to personal injury.
And with such large sums of money involved,
it's no surprise
that scam artists have decided they want a piece of the action.
And in 2006, a Luton-based gang were on the verge of pulling off
one of the largest car insurance cons ever seen.
The kind of crime that could have affected every motorist on UK roads.
On average it's costing genuine consumers £44 per policy, per year,
towards the cost of fraud.
Patricia lives just outside London and works at her local golf club.
In February 2006 she was driving home,
when she was involved in a crash.
I saw a car stop really abruptly in front of me...
..so I slammed on the brakes, of course not quick enough, and ran into the back of him.
Patricia and the other driver pulled over to exchange details.
It wasn't like he was upset or anything.
He was going on about this car that had cut him up.
He said, "Did you see that car go in front of us?"
I remembered then that I had seen this - I think it was a red car -
zip across in front of him.
The red car had caused the accident
by cutting up the driver in front of Patricia,
forcing him to slam on his brakes.
But it had then driven off, leaving Patricia to carry the can.
You just live with it cos you think, rear-end accidents,
it's always the fault of the person who hits the other one,
so you just live with it.
But Patricia did something that would later prove invaluable.
I did take a picture of the back end of his car with the registration,
because my partner had always said, "Use your mobile phone for that."
So that was quite good because I had a picture of the car.
It didn't have much damage to it at all.
Yet the other party claimed
their car had £5,000 worth of damage.
It soon transpired that Patricia's crash was no accident.
It had been pre-planned and carefully staged in a scam
which agencies like the Insurance Fraud Bureau call cash-for-crash.
What they're typically doing
is travelling in front of an innocent motorist,
slamming on their brakes, for example,
and the following vehicle has no choice but to hit the rear of their car,
and then they're pursuing claims for injuries for the occupants.
Usually the occupants aren't in the car at the time,
or if they are, they're claiming for ficticious injuries.
Cash-for-crash can also involve deliberately smashing up cars
and claiming for accidents that never happened.
It's a crime that nets an estimated
£350 million a year.
They're endangering other people's lives on the road with their driving,
affecting other people's insurance costs but, ultimately, you're talking around fraud.
And it's an offence that's firmly on the radar
of Detective Constable Mick Conneely from Bedfordshire Police.
In 2006 he was called out to investigate a gang
suspected of carrying out cash-for-crash fraud.
The investigation had been sparked by surveillance footage
taken at a nearby farm.
We had some observations
and viewing that observation material
allowed us to see what sort of criminality they were involved in,
and that led to a cash-for-crash investigation.
Two of the men caught on camera were Kamsam Mahmood,
the owner of the farm, here with the grey hood,
and in the orange jacket, Peter Charlery, a recovery driver.
Kamsam Mahmood was about to do something
that surprised the watching officers.
They saw Kamsam Mahmood get into a JCB
and hit the front of a Jaguar motor vehicle.
Why would somebody deliberately damage a perfectly nice car?
It soon became clear.
We spoke to the insurers for the Jaguar.
They told us that there was a claim for that Jaguar being involved
in an accident claim.
The Jaguar belonged to Kamsam Mahmood's brother, Istafa Hussein,
and the claim said the damage to the car had been caused
ten days earlier. The police knew that was a lie.
And as the insurance company wanted to see the damage,
the gang HAD to make the Jaguar look like it had been in a crash.
And the Jaguar crash was just the beginning.
So 15th May, for example,
a blue Astra is brought on to Long Meadow Farm by Kamsam Mahmood.
The vehicle is undamaged,
and having been on Long Meadow Farm, it's then taken away,
and it goes to a garage where it's MOT-ed.
The very next morning,
the same Astra has significant damage to the front of it.
And the gang had submitted another false claim,
saying the Astra had been in a crash the day after the officers
saw it smashed up at the farm.
Every car at the farm was now under scrutiny,
and DC Conneely's team soon found a common thread.
It was apparent that there was one accident management company
that was involved in the managing of these accident claims,
and that was Swift Accident Management.
Accident management firms do everything,
from recovering damaged vehicles to organising repairs
and helping submit insurance claims.
That made Swift Accident Management the perfect front
for the gang's crimes.
The men behind Swift were Saraj Qazi,
and Majid Hussein,
and they helped mastermind a series of fraudulent claims.
So our initial investigation showed us there were various types of claims being made.
There were claims for accidents that never happened,
like those seen on the farm with the Jaguar and the Astra.
These claims would be for thousands of pounds worth of damage,
plus recovery costs and personal injury.
There were innocent people who approached Swift,
thinking they were a legitimate accident management firm.
If you had a genuine accident
then there's no reason to say you wouldn't go to them.
You would go in there and you would say, "I've had an accident.
"Can you deal with it?"
At that stage that is a genuine accident.
What Swift Accident Management then did with it
was make some money out of it fraudulently.
Swift would do this by inventing extra damage,
or additional whiplash injuries.
They would then pocket the extra cash
and the customer would know nothing about it.
Finally came the induced accidents - crashes caused on purpose
involving innocent members of the public.
Induced accidents are clearly the most dangerous accidents
to be involved in and be party to.
Patricia's crash was one of many induced accidents
orchestrated by the Swift gang.
And she had no idea she'd been caught up in a scam
until she got a surprise call from her insurance company.
He just told me that the claim from the other party
had been that the car had been completely demolished,
and four people in the car claiming for injury.
But the photo Patricia had taken at the scene of the accident
proved this was a lie,
and it was added to the mounting pile of evidence against Swift Accident Management.
And in November 2006,
the police were ready to carry out a series of raids.
They hit several addresses, including the farm where cars were being smashed up,
and the offices of Swift Accident Management,
the company at the centre of the scam.
As a result of those warrants, ten people were arrested
and were interviewed in relation to cash-for-crash fraud,
and as a result of that, those warrants, a large amount of paperwork was seized,
including paperwork from both Swift Accident Management in Luton
and Swift Accident Management in Reading.
The company was shut down there and then,
and the men behind it, Saraj Qazi, Hafiz Chisti, and Majid Hussein,
were arrested, along with Kamsam Mahmood,
and Peter Charlery from the farm.
DC Conneely now had to make sure he had a water-tight case
against the gang.
In the 15 months they were trading,
they dealt with 180 individual accident claims,
from which there were 230 individual claims,
the 50 additional claims being personal injury.
And that meant the gang were raking in huge sums of money.
With an industry-agreed average of £18,000 per claim,
if those 180 claims had been fully paid,
they would've made in the region of £3.2 million.
The police knew they were looking at a highly-organised crime.
The gang had employed several professionals to help convince insurance companies
that the claims were real.
One was Christopher Fennessy, a trusted vehicle examiner
who was paid to exaggerate damage to the cars.
The vehicle examiner examines the vehicle on 18th May,
Christopher Fennessy, and he's examining that vehicle...
..as it is, undamaged.
You can see it's undamaged from this photograph here.
That Audi and that Corsa
were purportedly involved in an accident
later that same day.
Then there was the taxi firm
who handed over details of cars and drivers
that could be used in fraudulent claims.
The gang's web of deceit even included their nearest and dearest.
They used people they could trust.
They used family members, friends of family members.
As the scale of the crime went up,
so did the number of arrests.
In the end we arrested 60 individuals and took 45 to court,
so even that became a huge investigation.
After three-and-a-half years, Bedfordshire Police finally had
all the evidence they needed to take the gang to court.
This included the photograph taken by innocent victim, Patricia.
We had the vehicle examiner plead very early on, Christopher Fennessy,
plead guilty to conspiracy,
and then the people from the accident management company, the office front, as we call them,
Saraj Qazi, Majid Hussein
and Hafiz Chisti pleaded guilty.
And with some of the key figures convicted,
it was only matter of time before others followed.
By April 2011, 23 men had been jailed for their part in the scam.
Among them were Christopher Fennessy,
and Peter Charlery.
The convictions were a testament to the hard work of DC Conneely
and his team.
And there was more good news for innocent victims like Patricia,
who were able to square things with their insurance companies
so they weren't hit with inflated premiums.
He said that I would be able to have my no-claims back.
So I called up the company and they readjusted that back down
to what it was prior to,
so that was that.
So if you're involved in a crash and you think it's suspicious, what should you do?
Ask details of who the people are in the vehicle.
Look at the vehicle itself, take a note down of the damage that's been caused,
because a lot of the claims have large amounts of ficticious damage
associated with the vehicles.
If you've got a camera phone or any facility to take a photograph,
by all means try and take a photograph of the rear of the vehicle.
If you can, include in your picture of the scene of the accident
the fraudsters themselves or the people you think are involved in the fraud.
For more advice about cash-for-crash or any of the scams featured,
'Before we go,
'there's just time to tell you about some of the latest scams out there.
'I've come to meet an expert from the National Fraud Authority
'to get the low-down on what you should be looking out for.
'Today we're looking at scams that draw you in by telling you
'you've won a prize or competition.'
Everyone likes a competition. What are the competitions out there at the moment
where you get the surprise, not a prize?
You have won the Spanish,
the Canadian, the Australian, for example, Lottery.
The problem is, of course, you haven't won.
You cannot win it because you've never entered it.
And when you reply,
you'll be asked to pay an upfront fee to release your prize.
But don't, cos the prize doesn't exist.
And whatever you do, don't give out your credit card details.
Next, the holiday prize scam.
They're saying that you've won this holiday to a location,
and please phone this number,
and it could well be a premium-rate phone call again.
In actually contacting them,
the fees that you rack up on the phone call
could actually outweigh the value of the holiday in the first place.
So if you're told you've won a holiday
but you have to call a premium-rate number to claim your prize,
the chances are, yes, it's a scam.
So there you go.
It doesn't matter how clever the scam is,
if you recognise the warning signs,
you can stay one step ahead of the conmen.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Matt visits Michael and Hilary, whose attempts to sell their timeshare have put them at the mercy of a series of scam artists who have kept coming back for more. Plus the gang of men who were jailed for their part in an insurance scam that put innocent motorists' lives at risk, and the inheritance scam that tries to turn innocent people into criminals.