13/12/2016 Spotlight


13/12/2016

Hard-hitting investigations. A special investigation into mail fraud scammers who conned an elderly Northern Ireland woman out of thousands of pounds.


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Transcript


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A Spotlight investigation sparks a raid by armed

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fraud investigators in Holland.

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It's a move to close down a link in a global mail fraud

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taking millions every year.

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Their actions prompted by our story

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of an elderly scam victim from Northern Ireland.

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I just felt devastated completely,

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because...I knew all the money was gone.

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Spotlight follows the money trail to Holland.

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What do you do with the money?

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Our investigation uncovers links to the United States.

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Make no mistake, these operations are serious business.

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They're massive in scale and global in scope.

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It leads us to Switzerland.

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Hi, my name's Chris Moore, I'm from the BBC in Northern Ireland,

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and I'm looking for Mr Spaar.

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And we go to the Isle of Man...

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Mr Davis, could I have a word?

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'..to confront an executive of a chain of companies the US

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'government describes as a criminal money-laundering organisation.'

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Do you not think the elderly people in Northern Ireland

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-who've lost money are deserving of an explanation?

-No comment.

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Mail scam is a lucrative business that rakes in millions every year.

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A year ago we exposed one of the key players of an international scam.

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But what we want to know now is where does all that money end up?

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Our starting point is the story of Elizabeth.

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Last December we told how she lost her life savings to scammers,

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a staggering £180,000 in a 12-month period.

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Most of her money was taken in elaborate telephone scams,

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but for the rest of it, Elizabeth became a victim of mail-fraud scams.

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How much do you think you were spending in a week?

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How much were you sending away?

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Well, I'd keep enough for the petrol for the car

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and some for my food for myself.

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But the rest I...spent on...

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..on that there.

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The letter scams began after her husband died.

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She felt isolated and depressed,

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factors that can make people vulnerable to scams.

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Letters started to come, you know, the Netherlands.

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I thought, well, it's international and it must be OK.

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Elizabeth was getting unsolicited letters like these

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offering big cash rewards for an advance-fee payment.

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You're guaranteed thousands of pounds in return for

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a relatively small sum of between £25 and £30.

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But in fact, every time you're asked to send money off first for

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what is supposed to be a guaranteed prize, you become a victim of fraud.

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It's called an advance-fee fraud, and very simply, they make

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a very attractive proposition to you

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that they are going to give you a certain amount of money

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but you have to pay a certain amount of money up front.

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That WILL be a fraud.

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Fall for it just once and you go on a list prepared, maintained

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and shared by the criminals who've conned you into paying up front.

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This is known as the suckers list.

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It's just like being hypnotised.

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You're going to win this big amount of money and you'll be able

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to buy what you want when you get it.

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But...nothing ever appeared.

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It was just like a drug.

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The scammers buy the so-called suckers lists from each other.

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Once your name is on a suckers list your name and your address

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never comes off.

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Your details are continually shared between scammers right around

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the world. So the scam mail's not going to stop.

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Scam phone calls isn't going to stop.

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You will be repeatedly targeted.

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Most of those targeted are elderly.

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From my experience,

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the bulk of people responding to scam mail would be older persons.

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Many pensioners like Elizabeth are unfamiliar with social media

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and online banking.

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They're retired and most likely to still use cheques.

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The Trading Standards fraud team use the suckers list to identify

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those at risk, and part of Beverley Burns' job is to call in with them.

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Today she's on her way to Newry to speak to a victim.

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-Hello, Charlie.

-Hello, Beverley. Nice to see you again, love.

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Lovely to see you. How are you keeping?

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'I will look through post that he's getting and try to identify

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'scam letters,

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'or if there's information that I can gather from him which will be

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'of use to the national scams team.'

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I see this letter here has an address in the Netherlands, Charlie.

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I know.

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I would see a lot of scam post with addresses in the Netherlands,

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you know, so you just need to be really, really careful that,

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you know, you don't pick up the pieces and start responding again.

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Oh, no, I won't.

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I mean, I thought I was savvy, coming from London and that,

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but I wasn't, I was stupid.

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Charlie says he has stopped replying to unsolicited mail since

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Beverley first called to see him.

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You know, it's music to my ears whenever I hear that someone

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has stopped sending money off,

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cos it's important that people realise that these are

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-out-and-out criminals who are just out to take your money.

-Yeah.

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Elizabeth was not so fortunate.

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When did you first realise that...

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that you'd been involved in scams?

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Well...

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When the police came to the house and told me that this is all a scam.

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You know, different things like that and...

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I just felt devastated completely,

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because...I knew all the money was gone.

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The sheer number of scam letters asking Elizabeth to send money

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to post office boxes in Holland needs to be seen to be believed.

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A year ago we went to Holland to track down the owner of some

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of those PO boxes.

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We discovered that many belonged to this man, Erik Dekker,

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a Utrecht businessman and owner of

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a mail-packaging company called Trends.

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Erik Dekker had at least 150 PO boxes.

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In sifting through Elizabeth's scam mail,

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one particular box number of his appeared again and again.

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Box 1225.

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This is postbox 1225.

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It's on the white envelope here.

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Erm, this is one of the postboxes

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that belongs to Erik Dekker's company.

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And this is where Elizabeth would have sent some of her

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hard-earned pension and her savings.

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Mijn naam is Erik Dekker.

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We went to Trends to speak to company director Erik Dekker.

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He wasn't there.

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And he wasn't interested in telling me what he did with our

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victim's money as he drove off from his home in a Porsche.

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-Could we have a word, please? We want to talk to you about...

-We don't want to talk.

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We want to talk to you about these letters

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that you receive with money in them.

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These are letters that have money taken fraudulently

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and you use them, distribute them and manage them in your company.

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Can you talk to me about them, please?

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Can you tell me what you do with the money?

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The reason Erik Dekker is free to operate as an apparently

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legitimate businessman is because none of those sending money

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to his PO boxes lives in Holland.

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It was only after the broadcast of our Spotlight programme

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a year ago that the Dutch authorities became aware of

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Elizabeth and were able to launch an investigation.

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I'm now returning to Holland.

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I'm catching up with Cees Schep, who helped us last year.

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A former Dutch detective who now specialises in exposing fraud,

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he says finding a victim is vital to a successful investigation.

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-TRANSLATION:

-That's the hard part with this kind of crime.

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The fraud is committed in other countries

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and in the Netherlands you rarely receive reports of the fraud,

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because it's very rarely reported.

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Victims often don't even know that they are a victim of fraud.

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Elizabeth's story was therefore crucial to the raid on

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Erik Dekker's company.

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MEN SHOUT

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Armed fraud investigators arrive in numbers at Trends' offices

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in Utrecht and gain access with a search warrant.

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The Dutch investigators take staff by surprise.

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We see them tell one member of staff to stop work and put his

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mobile phone on the desk.

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They begin to confiscate anything of value.

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This portrait painting of Dutch football legend Johan Cruyff,

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for example.

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The evidence of scam-mail fraud is everywhere.

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Here they find not only the cash the victims put in envelopes

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but some messages as well.

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One telling them to stop sending "this junk".

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Another a note of misplaced gratitude.

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The searches at Trends uncover

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half a million euros in cash and banknotes in 60 different

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currencies, including Bank of England notes

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and, as it happens, Bank of Ireland notes as well.

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The armed fraud investigators also confiscate

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Erik Dekker's latest Porsche.

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Newspaper reporter Roeland Franck

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tells us the searches at Trends and Erik Dekker's home

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stunned the local community.

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Many people were surprised, shocked.

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Er, well, criminal activities are everywhere,

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we don't want to be naive, but seeing that something like

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this is happening in our backyard, well, that surprised people.

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And in this huge amount of letters which were sent from Utrecht,

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this is nothing to be proud of!

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His newspaper carries a revealing insight from

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a former Trends employee.

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He told us really detailed about his experience inside the company.

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He saw how envelopes, many thousands of envelopes came in and were

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opened by tens of people, just opening envelopes, counting,

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sorting the money, counting the money.

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Day after day he could see this happening, going on,

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and he saw also armoured cars

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to pick up the money at the end of the day.

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Cees Schep says that as well as making the Dutch authorities

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aware of Elizabeth and our Spotlight programme, he also brought it

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to the attention of investigators in Britain and America.

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-TRANSLATION:

-When the Dutch authorities decided to start investigating,

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I brought them in contact with the US Postal Service

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and National Trading Standard fraud team in the UK.

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Those organisations started working together,

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which led to the raid on June 1st,

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with house searches and the shutting down of over 300 postal boxes.

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The searches here in Utrecht were not conducted in isolation.

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At exactly the same moment, the US government was taking

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a civil action in a Washington court against Trends and Erik Dekker.

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America takes mail fraud very seriously,

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as is evident from this statement

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by the US Attorney General, Loretta Lynch.

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Make no mistake, these operations are serious business.

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They're massive in scale and global in scope and they bring in

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hundreds of millions of dollars.

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Several million Americans have been harmed by these predatory schemes.

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Erik Dekker is one of those the Americans have had suspicions about.

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I believe that the evidence that led us to conclude just how much

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Mr Dekker's fraudulent activity was reaching into

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the United States really came to our attention only recently,

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and once we had the evidence and facts to support

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enforcement actions against Mr Dekker we moved swiftly.

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Leading investigator Clayton Gerber

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says America has long been aware of the huge amount of

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fraudulently-obtained money leaving the United States for Holland

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on a massive scale.

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Were you surprised to discover the volume, not only of the mail

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that was going to the Netherlands, but the volume of cash that

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was going there as well?

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The volume was breathtaking. We were astounded.

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We did some initial mail observations

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here in the United States

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and we identified something in the order of 60% to 70%

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of the letter mail from the United States to the Netherlands

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each day was these fraudulent remittances from victims.

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The numbers were staggering - 150,000 to 180,000 pieces a month.

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The lawyer from the US Attorney General's Office who brought

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the civil action against Erik Dekker says the fraudulently-obtained money

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sent to his company alone runs into several millions.

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The evidence that we have suggests that in the United States

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the effects of his fraudulent activity was in the magnitude

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of 18 million or so.

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What we were able to do was to bring civil actions in coordination

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with the United States Postal Inspection Service,

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have shut down the mail services for Trends and for Mr Dekker.

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The question for us is, what happened to Elizabeth's money?

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As part of the case against Erik Dekker,

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the US Attorney General's Office

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set out the key elements of how a mail scam works.

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At one end of the chain you have a victim who's conned into

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sending money, often to a foreign country.

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The money goes to what the Americans call a caging company.

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In this case it's Erik Dekker's company Trends.

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The caging company's job is to open the envelopes,

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count the money, take a cut and then send the cheques to

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the next link in the chain, the payment processor.

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Sometimes the payment processor is one of the crooks and other times

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the processor is being duped by the crooks,

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who hide behind it to launder the money.

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What we have found is that the fraudulent actors are engaged

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in a very complicated international scheme, so there are caging services

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like Mr Dekker who are essentially the entities that collect the mail

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and open the mail for the other fraudulent actors,

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but in addition to that fraudulent conduct

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there are also the people who send out the mail

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and then people who process the payments.

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I'm back in Utrecht in the Netherlands on the money trail,

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in pursuit of a man who has been providing scam-mail fraudsters with

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facilities to collect and distribute

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the cash they've taken from victims like Elizabeth in Northern Ireland

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and also from victims all over the world.

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The actions of the American and Dutch investigators have had

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the effect of putting Erik Dekker and his companies out of business.

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His offices in Utrecht are up for sale.

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But I still want to know what he's done with Elizabeth's money.

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When I catch up with him, he's no longer driving a Porsche.

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Mr Dekker? Chris Moore from the BBC.

0:37:340:37:38

Mr Dekker, I'd like to ask you about how you've managed and processed

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some money that's been sent to you from old ladies in Northern Ireland.

0:37:430:37:46

-Can you go away from the car?

-Excuse me?

0:37:460:37:49

Can you go away from the car?

0:37:490:37:50

-Yeah, I want to talk to your... to Mr Dekker here.

-No.

0:37:500:37:53

Mr Dekker, would you please answer my questions?

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What do you do with the money you receive in envelopes

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that come to your premises, to your PO boxes?

0:37:590:38:03

There's money that's been taken fraudulently

0:38:030:38:06

from old ladies in Northern Ireland.

0:38:060:38:08

What do you do with the money?

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That's it, he doesn't want to talk, obviously.

0:38:140:38:17

So, Erik Dekker won't tell us where the money has gone.

0:38:250:38:29

But can we find out more about the network?

0:38:320:38:34

In particular, who at the end of the scam chain directly benefits

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from taking Elizabeth's money.

0:38:390:38:41

They're still calling, but...

0:38:430:38:45

It's nonstop. I thought maybe, you don't reply to the things, they would give up, but...

0:38:450:38:49

So you're surprised there's so much?

0:38:490:38:51

I am, yes, I am. There's quite a bit now.

0:38:510:38:53

'Elizabeth has travelled to Belfast to meet up with me

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'and I'm horrified to learn that she's still receiving scam mail.'

0:38:560:39:00

Well, this is where we've been working on your case.

0:39:030:39:08

'With Elizabeth's permission, we decide to see if we can

0:39:090:39:12

'trace where her cheques have actually been cashed.'

0:39:120:39:15

Elizabeth, this is quite a collection of mail...

0:39:150:39:19

It is.

0:39:190:39:20

-..that keeps coming through your...

-Letterbox.

-What?!

0:39:200:39:24

That's...

0:39:250:39:27

That's just unbelievable.

0:39:280:39:30

'It's not going to be easy,

0:39:300:39:32

'because there are almost 100 cheques involved,

0:39:320:39:35

'and even where they've been sent to the same PO box

0:39:350:39:39

'they're all made out to different names.'

0:39:390:39:42

And they're made out to strange... little companies.

0:39:430:39:46

I mean, if you look,

0:39:460:39:48

I've just written the names on the front of some of these envelopes,

0:39:480:39:51

and what you have is, like, there's OTO...

0:39:510:39:56

and RDI.

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I don't know where that's to.

0:39:570:40:00

RSG, does that mean anything?

0:40:000:40:02

Eh...yes, some of them do.

0:40:020:40:05

We take some of the cheques she sent to Erik Dekker,

0:40:120:40:16

all made out to different names,

0:40:160:40:18

and look at the sort code stamped on the back.

0:40:180:40:20

And amazingly, when we put that number into a search engine,

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we discover that Elizabeth's cheques have gone from

0:40:280:40:31

Northern Ireland to Holland and have ended up back in the UK,

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being cashed in a high-street bank in England -

0:40:350:40:39

the NatWest bank at Chorley in Lancashire.

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Further research reveals that alongside the cheques

0:40:440:40:47

sent via Erik Dekker,

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a total of 38 of Elizabeth's cheques have ended up in this bank.

0:40:490:40:54

All of Elizabeth's cheques were what's known as crossed cheques,

0:40:550:40:59

which means they should only be cached into the account

0:40:590:41:02

of the person they're made out to.

0:41:020:41:04

But incredibly, despite being made out and crossed to

0:41:050:41:08

over 30 different names, they all went into the same account.

0:41:080:41:12

Financial journalist Paul Lewis of the BBC's Money Box programme

0:41:170:41:21

says that just shouldn't happen.

0:41:210:41:24

That's not how it's supposed to work.

0:41:250:41:27

Particularly if a cheque is crossed,

0:41:270:41:29

it should only go to the named payee on the account.

0:41:290:41:33

That is how it should work.

0:41:330:41:35

If this is a UK bank, which it is,

0:41:350:41:37

that's how it should work in this country, certainly.

0:41:370:41:40

So you would be concerned if that's happening?

0:41:400:41:43

I'd be very concerned.

0:41:430:41:44

I've come to Chorley in Lancashire because nearly half of

0:41:530:41:56

Elizabeth's cheques were cashed in a bank here.

0:41:560:41:59

It says a lot about how carefully scammers plot their schemes

0:42:010:42:05

when they come to small towns like Chorley here in Lancashire

0:42:050:42:08

and open up bank accounts to clean up the money they've taken

0:42:080:42:12

fraudulently in mail scams.

0:42:120:42:14

Muthupandi Ganesan is a barrister specialising in fraud cases,

0:42:180:42:23

particularly mail scams and money laundering.

0:42:230:42:26

In many cases fraudsters do target regional branches of big companies,

0:42:280:42:33

and the reason being is that they do not want to get noticed,

0:42:330:42:37

they don't want to bring attention to themselves

0:42:370:42:40

as much as they would do if they are in a very big city branch

0:42:400:42:44

with lots of transactions,

0:42:440:42:45

with a high number of staff looking at the account-opening procedures.

0:42:450:42:52

But even when dealing with a small branch, how can fraudsters

0:42:550:42:59

cash cheques made out to different people in the same account?

0:42:590:43:02

The answer very often is a payment processor, who tells the bank

0:43:030:43:08

it's holding accounts for a number of mail order clients.

0:43:080:43:12

There have been cases where payment processors,

0:43:120:43:15

third-party payment processors,

0:43:150:43:17

their facilities have been abused by fraudsters because it enables them

0:43:170:43:22

to receive cheques from different names

0:43:220:43:25

and cheques coming from different locations

0:43:250:43:28

but all being put through to one particular account.

0:43:280:43:32

We asked the NatWest to tell us the name of the payment processor

0:43:360:43:39

into whose account they'd paid all of Elizabeth's money.

0:43:390:43:43

The bank declined to tell us on the grounds of data protection.

0:43:430:43:47

Without the name of the payment processor,

0:43:490:43:52

we can't for the time being take the money trail past the NatWest.

0:43:520:43:57

But those are not the only cheques of Elizabeth's

0:44:050:44:08

we are able to follow.

0:44:080:44:10

We traced 24 to a branch of Barclays Bank in London.

0:44:120:44:16

But these cheques contain an even more important clue, because stamped

0:44:180:44:23

on the back is the name of a payment processor, Cambridge Mercantile.

0:44:230:44:29

We have here a number of the cheques that you sent -

0:44:310:44:34

-I think there was 24 of them went into a Barclays Bank.

-Yes.

0:44:340:44:37

When you look at the back of the cheques

0:44:370:44:40

there's a clue about who received the money,

0:44:400:44:43

-because on these it tells you, if you look through there...

-Yes.

0:44:430:44:48

Take the magnifying glass and have a look. You see here it tells you...

0:44:480:44:52

-Can you see my finger?

-Yes, I do.

0:44:520:44:54

-It's got the name Cambridge Mercantile.

-I see that.

0:44:540:44:58

You didn't make a cheque out to Cambridge Mercantile?

0:45:000:45:02

No, no. Definitely not.

0:45:020:45:03

Now, it's important to remember that the vast majority of payment

0:45:050:45:08

processors are legitimate businesses that are themselves being

0:45:080:45:13

duped by criminals.

0:45:130:45:14

And that is what Cambridge Mercantile tell us

0:45:160:45:18

has happened on this occasion.

0:45:180:45:21

In a statement, the company says that while the account in question

0:45:210:45:24

had been set up properly, red-flag issues soon emerged, and that

0:45:240:45:29

they closed the account and launched some form of investigation.

0:45:290:45:33

But once again, very frustratingly, on the grounds of data protection

0:45:330:45:38

neither Cambridge Mercantile, the payment processor,

0:45:380:45:41

nor Barclays would tell us who the money was going to.

0:45:410:45:45

But Elizabeth's cheques are not the only ones we follow.

0:45:500:45:53

-And here we have GDS.

-Yes, I do remember them.

0:45:550:45:57

Familiar with those?

0:45:570:45:59

Yes, you made the cheque payable to GDS.

0:45:590:46:01

'We ask Elizabeth if we can send six of our own bank drafts to

0:46:020:46:06

'addresses the fraudsters previously tricked her into sending money to,

0:46:060:46:11

'including this one offering £66,000

0:46:110:46:14

'in exchange for £30 sent in advance.'

0:46:140:46:18

-One of the people we want to send our money off to is GDS.

-Yes.

0:46:190:46:23

-And this is the letter that we're going to use.

-Yes.

0:46:230:46:27

-You see what it's promising?

-Yes, 66,500.

0:46:270:46:30

And that means we should get 66,000 back.

0:46:300:46:33

-If you get it.

-Will we?

0:46:330:46:35

I don't think so. Don't get up your hopes, son.

0:46:350:46:38

OK.

0:46:380:46:39

I just purchased these six bank drafts

0:46:460:46:49

made payable to companies we've already identified

0:46:490:46:52

as having scammed Elizabeth two years ago.

0:46:520:46:55

Now we're going to send this money off to those same companies,

0:46:550:46:58

and we're using mail that they've delivered to her home

0:46:580:47:02

since the start of the year.

0:47:020:47:03

That's six envelopes on their way to Holland with our money in them.

0:47:110:47:14

It'll be interesting to see where it ends up.

0:47:140:47:17

One of the bank drafts we sent off was made out to GDS.

0:47:270:47:31

12 cheques belonging to Elizabeth also made out to GDS

0:47:350:47:39

ended up, according to our searches,

0:47:390:47:41

being paid to another payment processor

0:47:410:47:44

called Payment Solutions.

0:47:440:47:45

We contacted Payment Solutions to ask them where the money was going.

0:47:500:47:55

And remarkably, this time,

0:47:550:47:57

there's no attempt made to hide behind data protection,

0:47:570:48:02

because they say they believe their client, GDS,

0:48:020:48:05

is a legitimate mail order company.

0:48:050:48:08

They say their client runs a mail order business

0:48:130:48:16

selling costume jewellery and religious medals.

0:48:160:48:19

Payment Solutions tell us there's no evidence so far

0:48:230:48:26

of the cheques being fraudulent.

0:48:260:48:28

But we have that evidence.

0:48:330:48:35

We know that GDS were not selling any actual items

0:48:350:48:39

when they cashed our cheque.

0:48:390:48:41

Here's what prompted us to send it to them -

0:48:410:48:44

a letter promising £66,000.

0:48:440:48:48

So, where's the money I was promised?

0:48:500:48:52

£66,000 for a small advance payment?

0:48:520:48:56

We need to find out more.

0:49:020:49:04

And, remarkably, Payment Solutions e-mail us

0:49:110:49:14

with an address in Switzerland for GDS,

0:49:140:49:17

which they call Grino Direct Sarl.

0:49:170:49:19

Our destination is Geneva,

0:49:220:49:24

the fourth most expensive city in the world.

0:49:240:49:27

It's a place for those with lavish tastes,

0:49:310:49:35

but also the hiding place for the GDS scammers

0:49:350:49:38

who've taken Elizabeth's money, and our money as well.

0:49:380:49:41

This is a very interesting e-mail from Payment Solutions

0:49:430:49:46

because they finally tell us who was taking the money

0:49:460:49:50

from Elizabeth's cheques that were made out to GDS,

0:49:500:49:52

and it turns out that it's Grino Direct Sarl.

0:49:520:49:57

But they give us the address.

0:49:570:49:59

It's care of Ace International

0:49:590:50:01

at Place de St-Gervais, Geneva, in Switzerland.

0:50:010:50:04

But as ever, when investigating mail fraud,

0:50:070:50:10

you can never be sure you've got to the end of the chain.

0:50:100:50:13

Company records show the owner of GDS

0:50:140:50:17

is a Mr Herbert Rudolf Spaar.

0:50:170:50:21

I'm looking for Mr Spaar. Would he be available, please?

0:50:210:50:25

We leave several voice messages and write to him twice,

0:50:250:50:29

but get no response.

0:50:290:50:30

Do you know if he'll be in this week to his office?

0:50:320:50:35

We're not the only people

0:50:410:50:43

who've had difficulty in contacting Herbert Spaar.

0:50:430:50:46

Swiss journalist Dr Oliver Zihlmann,

0:50:460:50:49

of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists,

0:50:490:50:52

helped to reveal the Panama Papers

0:50:520:50:55

where companies were engaged in elaborate tax avoidance schemes.

0:50:550:50:58

He made enquiries about Herbert Spaar on our behalf.

0:51:000:51:03

One would expect in Switzerland when you contact a business

0:51:040:51:07

that you would be able to get someone.

0:51:070:51:09

This is not the case here,

0:51:090:51:11

so that makes this person a bit of a ghost.

0:51:110:51:14

Also, we didn't find him in any other database

0:51:150:51:20

or phone book or registry,

0:51:200:51:22

so he is a person who really escapes the eye.

0:51:220:51:28

So the question is,

0:51:290:51:32

does Mr Spaar really exist or is he a faceless ghost?

0:51:320:51:36

Amazing.

0:51:390:51:40

The faceless man of Geneva.

0:51:420:51:44

So, I'm now on my way to knock the door of the company GDS,

0:51:490:51:54

and I've got their address here

0:51:540:51:56

and I'm hoping that Mr Spaar will be available.

0:51:560:51:58

He hasn't been available on the telephone up to now,

0:51:580:52:01

but let's see what happens when we actually knock the front door.

0:52:010:52:04

So, there's no GDS button,

0:52:110:52:13

but their office is care of Ace International, so...

0:52:130:52:16

..I'll press this button and see what happens.

0:52:170:52:20

They're opening the door for me,

0:52:240:52:26

so I'll take the opportunity to go in

0:52:260:52:30

and speak to whoever's there.

0:52:300:52:31

See you in a moment.

0:52:350:52:37

Hello. Bonjour.

0:52:380:52:40

'On my way up to the office,

0:52:400:52:41

'I notice a letterbox with the initials GDS.'

0:52:410:52:45

So, here we have Ace International.

0:52:450:52:48

They provide accommodation for this company down here,

0:52:480:52:52

Grino Direct Sarl.

0:52:520:52:54

This is the company that has taken money from Elizabeth's cheques.

0:52:540:52:59

That's the company we want to talk to today.

0:52:590:53:02

My name's Chris Moore. I'm from the BBC in Northern Ireland.

0:53:050:53:09

I spoke to someone here yesterday. I'm looking for Mr Spaar.

0:53:090:53:12

Along with my producer, we're shown into a conference room.

0:53:130:53:18

The door's closed behind us.

0:53:180:53:20

The receptionist won't confirm

0:53:200:53:22

whether she has ever met GDS owner Herbert Spaar.

0:53:220:53:26

She tells us she is not allowed to say whether or not

0:53:260:53:29

we're sitting in the offices of GDS.

0:53:290:53:31

HE CHUCKLES It's... It's...

0:53:320:53:34

It's hardly surprising we're getting the runaround here.

0:53:350:53:39

No-one seems to, obviously, want to talk to us.

0:53:390:53:43

No-one wants to be able to explain why...

0:53:430:53:46

they send this kind of literature out

0:53:460:53:49

and scam letters promising large amounts of cash -

0:53:490:53:53

134,000 here, 32,000 here -

0:53:530:53:57

for small payments made payable to GDS.

0:53:570:54:01

Elizabeth lost thousands

0:54:030:54:05

in sending money to Holland to these addresses,

0:54:050:54:09

because these all come from PO boxes in Holland,

0:54:090:54:14

and the money then comes to England.

0:54:140:54:17

And then we find out that it's transferred to GDS at this address,

0:54:170:54:22

this very office, in Geneva.

0:54:220:54:25

And it's quite a posh office.

0:54:250:54:28

No-one in here is prepared to talk to us

0:54:280:54:31

and to explain what kind of a business it is that they're running

0:54:310:54:34

and what have they done with Elizabeth's money.

0:54:340:54:39

It's just... It's just unbelievable. Unbelievable.

0:54:390:54:42

After half an hour waiting with no-one prepared to speak to us,

0:54:450:54:49

it's time to leave.

0:54:490:54:50

We never found out whether Mr Spaar was real or whether he was a ghost.

0:54:530:54:57

After our visit, Ace International wrote to us

0:55:000:55:04

insisting that it and GDS are two separate legal entities.

0:55:040:55:08

But we had already established

0:55:100:55:12

that the two companies have a lot in common.

0:55:120:55:15

A quick look at their accounts shows a most remarkable coincidence.

0:55:170:55:21

Based in the same building,

0:55:230:55:24

they both have exactly the same annual turnover.

0:55:240:55:27

Oliver Zihlmann is deeply suspicious.

0:55:300:55:33

One would be surprised.

0:55:340:55:36

When you look a bit closely at this company,

0:55:360:55:39

you see that it is using an address of another company

0:55:390:55:43

who incorporates offshore companies,

0:55:430:55:46

shell companies, in jurisdictions like the British Virgin Islands,

0:55:460:55:51

and this is a very shadowy business, let's say it like that.

0:55:510:55:55

The chief executive officer of Ace International

0:56:000:56:03

is Ariane Slinger.

0:56:030:56:06

Ace is a company that provides business and tax advice.

0:56:060:56:09

Ariane Slinger has been linked to over 1,800 entities

0:56:110:56:15

listed in the Panama Papers,

0:56:150:56:18

her company appearing to help them keep one step ahead of the law.

0:56:180:56:22

What we have in Geneva

0:56:240:56:25

is companies like the one that uses the address of your company

0:56:250:56:30

setting up shell companies

0:56:300:56:32

in places like Panama and British Virgin Islands

0:56:320:56:35

and using scam directors.

0:56:350:56:38

If they make that, then law enforcements cannot touch them.

0:56:380:56:42

We never discovered to what extent the ghostly Mr Spaar of GDS

0:56:460:56:50

is connected to Ariane Slinger of Ace.

0:56:500:56:53

As we know, she insists Ace and GDS

0:56:540:56:57

are entirely separate legal entities.

0:56:570:57:00

This is pretty serious stuff,

0:57:030:57:05

and normally you see those companies set up in Liberia and other places.

0:57:050:57:09

That it's operating out of Switzerland is really embarrassing.

0:57:090:57:12

And do you think that the Swiss authorities

0:57:120:57:14

might at some point have an interest in this,

0:57:140:57:17

that they might want to look at this?

0:57:170:57:19

Yes, definitely.

0:57:190:57:20

I would say if you have an operation like that

0:57:200:57:24

with a company actually incorporated in Switzerland

0:57:240:57:27

they would have to go after it, yes, absolutely.

0:57:270:57:30

What Switzerland underlined, as we found elsewhere,

0:57:360:57:39

is that again and again,

0:57:390:57:40

it is really difficult to follow the money trail in mail fraud.

0:57:400:57:44

But in September,

0:57:510:57:53

the American action against Erik Dekker's company, Trends, in Holland

0:57:530:57:58

led them to name a payment processor called PacNet

0:57:580:58:01

as a transnational criminal organisation...

0:58:010:58:04

..to which Erik Dekker was sending fraudulently-obtained money.

0:58:060:58:10

One of the principal payment processors

0:58:110:58:14

that Mr Dekker and Trends worked with was an entity called PacNet.

0:58:140:58:18

PacNet is what we call a payment processor,

0:58:180:58:21

which means that it receives the money

0:58:210:58:24

and then makes sure that the money

0:58:240:58:26

gets to the people who are engaged in the fraudulent scheme.

0:58:260:58:29

To put it another way,

0:58:290:58:31

when Mr Dekker and his corporation open the mail,

0:58:310:58:35

they send the cheques to PacNet.

0:58:350:58:37

The fraudsters needed someone to open the envelopes

0:58:410:58:44

and handle the paper and do the data entry.

0:58:440:58:46

That's what Mr Dekker's company did.

0:58:460:58:48

And they needed someone like PacNet to process the payments

0:58:480:58:52

and deal with the cheques and credit cards and the like.

0:58:520:58:55

US investigators say PacNet have a 20-year history

0:58:580:59:03

of knowingly laundering the proceeds of mail frauds.

0:59:030:59:06

Last year, Clayton Gerber supervised the closure

0:59:090:59:12

of one scheme involving PacNet

0:59:120:59:14

which took 184 million from victims in a five-year period.

0:59:140:59:19

Here, he supervises the interception of envelopes containing cash.

0:59:220:59:26

Andrew Saks-McLeod specialises in research on financial technology.

0:59:330:59:38

PacNet's been around for quite some time,

0:59:390:59:41

and it has a series of other sister companies

0:59:410:59:44

and members of its same group underneath it.

0:59:440:59:47

It's a Canadian company.

0:59:470:59:49

It originates from Vancouver, British Columbia.

0:59:490:59:51

In the case of the Netherlands,

0:59:570:59:59

the US authorities established that tens of millions of dollars

0:59:591:00:03

fraudulently obtained in America

1:00:031:00:06

were being sent to Erik Dekker's Trends company

1:00:061:00:09

and then on to PacNet.

1:00:091:00:11

That's why they stopped first Trends and then PacNet

1:00:141:00:18

from using the US Postal Service.

1:00:181:00:20

What's happened is, the US government

1:00:231:00:25

hasn't been able to have any jurisdiction

1:00:251:00:27

over those particular companies

1:00:271:00:29

because they're not American companies,

1:00:291:00:30

so they cut off the payment source,

1:00:301:00:32

therefore there's no possibility

1:00:321:00:35

that those companies can solicit using PacNet.

1:00:351:00:38

The Americans traced US dollars going to Trends

1:00:381:00:41

and then on to a PacNet account at a Barclays Bank in London,

1:00:411:00:46

and from there through an American bank

1:00:461:00:49

to PacNet's headquarters in Canada.

1:00:491:00:52

But did any of Elizabeth's money pass through the hands of PacNet?

1:00:581:01:02

The answer to that can be found

1:01:051:01:07

back at this branch of the NatWest Bank in Chorley.

1:01:071:01:11

As we already know, we traced 38 of Elizabeth's cheques,

1:01:111:01:16

several of which had gone through Erik Dekker's PO boxes in Holland,

1:01:161:01:20

to a single account in this branch.

1:01:201:01:23

Now Spotlight can reveal that a source in the banking industry

1:01:231:01:27

has shown us evidence that proves the account belonged to PacNet.

1:01:271:01:32

According to the US Treasury Department,

1:01:361:01:39

these are some of the people behind the PacNet group.

1:01:391:01:42

The man at the top is Robert Paul Davis,

1:01:441:01:47

commonly known as Paul Davis.

1:01:471:01:49

When not helping to run what the American government calls

1:01:551:01:58

a transnational criminal organisation,

1:01:581:02:01

Mr Davis is a farmer

1:02:011:02:03

and a director of a RareBridge company based on the Isle of Man.

1:02:031:02:07

Here he's being interviewed for a BBC programme on his farm.

1:02:091:02:13

I've heard anecdotally

1:02:131:02:15

that some of the locals refer to us as Jurassic Park.

1:02:151:02:19

Although none of our animals have actually been extinct,

1:02:191:02:22

we are doing pretty much the same thing.

1:02:221:02:24

We're preserving the heritage of animals.

1:02:241:02:26

As well as being a farmer, Mr Davis has many other talents.

1:02:291:02:33

He's a pilot -

1:02:331:02:35

here he is in the uniform of PacNet Air -

1:02:351:02:37

a barrister,

1:02:371:02:39

and an expert on international financial payments.

1:02:391:02:43

He frequently attends conferences

1:02:431:02:45

and, ironically, gives talks on protection against fraud.

1:02:451:02:48

He told the 8th European Gaming Summit

1:02:511:02:54

that his life is governed is by the four Fs -

1:02:541:02:56

family, finance, flying and farming.

1:02:561:03:02

He didn't mention whether PacNet helps fraudsters.

1:03:021:03:05

We wrote to Paul Davis about the alleged involvement of his companies

1:03:101:03:14

in laundering fraudulent cheques.

1:03:141:03:17

We mentioned PacNet Services Ltd

1:03:171:03:19

and other companies with similar names.

1:03:191:03:22

Paul Davis wrote back

1:03:251:03:27

categorically denying any involvement in fraud.

1:03:271:03:31

He claims PacNet operates strict compliance procedures

1:03:311:03:35

and it denies it ever knowingly processed payments

1:03:351:03:38

for fraudulent mail companies.

1:03:381:03:41

PacNet also told us they will defend the US government allegations,

1:03:411:03:45

which they claim are inaccurate and biased.

1:03:451:03:48

They also told us they'd stopped processing payments

1:03:481:03:52

for direct mail companies altogether.

1:03:521:03:55

In closing PacNet down in America, the US authorities recognised

1:03:551:04:00

that the group operates behind a hugely complex web

1:04:001:04:03

of similarly-named companies and individuals.

1:04:031:04:07

Paul Davis relied on this

1:04:081:04:09

when failing to address some of our questions.

1:04:091:04:12

Today, we took action to protect America's most vulnerable

1:04:181:04:22

by designating the PacNet Group

1:04:221:04:24

as a significant transnational criminal organisation.

1:04:241:04:28

With operations in Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom

1:04:281:04:32

and subsidiaries or affiliates in 15 other jurisdictions,

1:04:321:04:36

PacNet is a third-party payment processor of choice

1:04:361:04:40

for perpetrators of a wide range of mail-fraud schemes.

1:04:401:04:45

The 24 companies designated by Ofac today

1:04:451:04:47

comprise of PacNet Group

1:04:471:04:49

and/or are entities owned or controlled by PacNet executives

1:04:491:04:53

or other PacNet-linked companies.

1:04:531:04:55

In our letter to Mr Davis,

1:05:001:05:02

we told him about 74-year-old Elizabeth

1:05:021:05:05

and the money she'd lost.

1:05:051:05:07

In his reply, he said PacNet was sorry to hear about people

1:05:071:05:12

who have lost the capacity to look after their money.

1:05:121:05:16

-You sent a lot of money to these mail scams.

-Yes, I did. I did.

1:05:191:05:23

-And you lost your life savings.

-Yes, I did. Uh-huh.

1:05:231:05:27

How difficult has it been

1:05:271:05:30

to survive without that money that you had safely stashed away?

1:05:301:05:33

Well, it was difficult

1:05:331:05:35

to know that I'd made of a fool of myself, for starters,

1:05:351:05:38

and was difficult...

1:05:381:05:40

I had plans for that money,

1:05:401:05:43

but I thought if I had a little bit more, I'd be able to...

1:05:431:05:47

..succeed in my dream of what I was going to do with it.

1:05:481:05:52

But it wasn't to be,

1:05:521:05:55

because I had no money to do what I wanted to do.

1:05:551:05:59

What was your dream? What did you need the extra cash for?

1:05:591:06:02

I wanted a nice house,

1:06:021:06:05

a better house than the one I lived in.

1:06:051:06:08

And a nice dry house and...

1:06:081:06:11

You know, nice and comfortable for the rest of my days.

1:06:111:06:13

But it didn't work out like that.

1:06:131:06:15

We also asked Mr Davis about PacNet's dealings

1:06:191:06:22

with Erik Dekker and Trends.

1:06:221:06:24

He told us PacNet and Trends have no business relationship.

1:06:251:06:29

But Elizabeth's cheques showed that there is some connection.

1:06:311:06:35

By allowing us to track her cheques from Northern Ireland

1:06:371:06:40

through the caging services of Erik Dekker in Holland

1:06:401:06:44

and then on to the PacNet account at the NatWest Bank,

1:06:441:06:48

Elizabeth has enabled us to prove

1:06:481:06:51

that Mr Davis' PacNet is the next link in the chain.

1:06:511:06:55

Surprisingly, that link isn't too far from our own shores.

1:07:141:07:18

We've come to the Isle of Man on the trail of PacNet's Paul Davis,

1:07:221:07:26

the man the US government has placed

1:07:261:07:28

on the transnational criminal organisation list.

1:07:281:07:31

We want to ask him how some of the cheques Elizabeth sent

1:07:311:07:35

to Erik Dekker's PO boxes in Holland

1:07:351:07:38

ended up in a PacNet account in Chorley.

1:07:381:07:40

We start by visiting Mr Davis' Manx Rare Breeds farm.

1:07:501:07:54

But there's no-one at home.

1:07:561:07:59

We want to put our questions to Mr Davis on PacNet's behalf.

1:07:591:08:03

Mr Davis, could I have a word?

1:08:051:08:06

'We catch up with him...' How are you doing?

1:08:061:08:08

'..as he is delivering meat to a local restaurant.'

1:08:081:08:11

-Who are you?

-Chris Moore from the BBC in Northern Ireland.

-Yeah?

1:08:111:08:14

Just wanted to have a word with you

1:08:141:08:16

about the cheques that went into the PacNet account

1:08:161:08:19

-in Chorley in Lancashire.

-No comment.

1:08:191:08:21

-You know, a 74-year-old lady lost...

-No comment.

-..thousands of pounds.

1:08:211:08:24

-Can you tell me what you did with her money?

-No comment.

1:08:241:08:26

Can you give me some reaction, then,

1:08:261:08:28

to what the Americans have alleged against PacNet,

1:08:281:08:30

-that you're a transnational criminal organisation?

-No comment.

1:08:301:08:33

Do you not think that the elderly people in Northern Ireland

1:08:331:08:36

who've lost money are deserving of an explanation?

1:08:361:08:38

No comment.

1:08:381:08:40

-I mean, you did say in response to our letters...

-No comment.

1:08:401:08:45

Um...

1:08:451:08:47

-You have said...

-No comment.

-..that PacNet will defend the allegations

1:08:471:08:51

against the government in the United States.

1:08:511:08:53

-How will you do that, please?

-No comment.

-Could you tell me?

1:08:531:08:56

We've given you this opportunity to talk to us

1:08:561:08:58

and we'd like to know what happened to the money

1:08:581:09:00

that a 74-year-old widow was scammed out of.

1:09:001:09:04

-No comment.

-Why can't you tell us...?

1:09:041:09:06

'We want Mr Davis to explain PacNet's position.'

1:09:061:09:10

And we would like to know what you did with that money.

1:09:101:09:12

-Who did you give it to? Cos this lady was defrauded.

-No comment.

1:09:121:09:15

OK. Thank you very much for your time. Thanks.

1:09:151:09:18

PacNet did subsequently point out

1:09:181:09:20

they've never been charged with any criminal wrongdoing

1:09:201:09:23

and claim regularly to report suspicious transactions

1:09:231:09:27

and to cooperate with the authorities.

1:09:271:09:29

It's time to find out what Elizabeth thinks.

1:09:301:09:33

We've tried to take the story of your money

1:09:331:09:36

-and where it disappeared to.

-Yes.

1:09:361:09:38

-We started with you, obviously, here.

-Yes.

1:09:381:09:41

We followed the trail of your cheques

1:09:411:09:45

-to the PO boxes in Holland.

-Yes.

1:09:451:09:48

And to this man. He owned quite a few of the PO boxes in Holland

1:09:481:09:53

-that you were sending your money to.

-Yes.

1:09:531:09:55

-He provides a caging service.

-Right.

1:09:551:09:57

-That means that in this scam...

-Mm-hm.

1:09:571:10:00

..he collects the money, counts it,

1:10:001:10:02

and then sends it out to the next person.

1:10:021:10:05

He was caught recently in America.

1:10:051:10:08

They took action as a result of your information to the Dutch,

1:10:081:10:13

the Dutch, the Americans combined,

1:10:131:10:15

and Mr Dekker's been put out of business.

1:10:151:10:17

-What do you think?

-Good. Good.

1:10:171:10:19

It's good enough for him.

1:10:191:10:20

He was taking 18 million a year from people in the United States.

1:10:201:10:26

Oh, my goodness me.

1:10:261:10:28

-Surprise you?

-It does. Really surprises me.

1:10:281:10:31

But I'd like to meet that man and give him a piece of my mind.

1:10:311:10:35

But I'm glad he's getting his punishment.

1:10:351:10:39

If he's put out of business and so forth,

1:10:391:10:41

let him know what it's like to be left penniless.

1:10:411:10:44

I'm going to tell you the next bit on the trail of your money.

1:10:461:10:51

-And it brings us over... to this gentleman.

-Yes.

1:10:511:10:56

And his company is called...

1:10:561:10:59

-PacNet.

-..PacNet Services.

-Right.

1:10:591:11:02

It's a payment processor

1:11:021:11:04

who makes sure that the proceeds reach the principals involved

1:11:041:11:09

in the criminal actions.

1:11:091:11:11

Well, there you are. That's a surprise.

1:11:111:11:14

Mr Davis, we asked him about your situation,

1:11:141:11:18

we asked him about money

1:11:181:11:20

that was taken from an elderly woman in Northern Ireland

1:11:201:11:23

and what he had to say about it,

1:11:231:11:25

and he said that PacNet were sorry

1:11:251:11:28

that people were unable to manage their own affairs,

1:11:281:11:31

to manage their money properly.

1:11:311:11:35

What do you...? What do you think about that comment?

1:11:351:11:38

Well, I think he didn't care.

1:11:381:11:40

Need a good telling off and let him know what...

1:11:401:11:43

what it's like to take your money and send it to criminals.

1:11:431:11:49

Elizabeth was caught in a global mail scam

1:11:531:11:55

that saw her money travel to Holland,

1:11:551:11:57

where it was collected and opened by Trends caging services...

1:11:571:12:01

..who sent her cheques to banks in England

1:12:031:12:06

and into the accounts of payment processors

1:12:061:12:08

who, if not knowingly involved,

1:12:081:12:10

were unwittingly being used by the crooks hiding behind them

1:12:101:12:14

to launder the cash taken fraudulently.

1:12:141:12:17

The key part of the scam

1:12:221:12:24

is to trick banks into cashing fraudulently-obtained cheques.

1:12:241:12:28

Paul Lewis is not optimistic

1:12:311:12:33

that the system will change any time soon.

1:12:331:12:36

The crooks are cleverer and faster than the banks

1:12:381:12:41

who they're using in their crimes,

1:12:411:12:44

and I think that will probably continue to be the case.

1:12:441:12:47

They know how the systems work and they know how to exploit them.

1:12:471:12:50

A crucial part of the scam

1:12:541:12:56

is the use crooks make of payment processors.

1:12:561:12:59

Muthupandi Ganesan says, like banks,

1:13:011:13:05

payment processors have obligations to fight fraud.

1:13:051:13:09

Absolutely, because they are also a financial provider,

1:13:101:13:15

a financial remedy provider, if I can put it like that.

1:13:151:13:19

They are also under a duty

1:13:191:13:22

to ensure that they are not allowing their mechanisms

1:13:221:13:25

to be used by fraudsters for money laundering

1:13:251:13:28

or washing up of illegal proceeds of crime.

1:13:281:13:31

The body charged with regulating payment processors in the UK

1:13:361:13:40

is the Financial Conduct Authority, the FCA.

1:13:401:13:43

Despite recent evidence from America

1:13:471:13:49

where, as we now know, PacNet have been designated

1:13:491:13:52

as a transnational criminal organisation,

1:13:521:13:55

the FCA say they continue to authorise parts of the PacNet Group

1:13:551:13:59

to operate in the UK.

1:13:591:14:01

They say they are considering what action to take.

1:14:041:14:07

Andrew Saks-McLeod finds this astonishing.

1:14:091:14:14

Bearing in mind that the US Department of the Treasury

1:14:141:14:17

considers PacNet to be...

1:14:171:14:19

and all of its subsidiaries, to be a fraudulent criminal organisation

1:14:191:14:23

and a money-laundering organisation,

1:14:231:14:25

the Financial Conduct Authority's payment services provider register,

1:14:251:14:29

just a few days afterwards, actually held its hand out and said,

1:14:291:14:34

"We're aware of the US Treasury sanctions on the company,

1:14:341:14:39

"we don't stand by that and, actually,

1:14:391:14:41

"we consider to uphold the regulatory status of PacNet

1:14:411:14:45

"and its subsidiaries in Britain,"

1:14:451:14:47

which is quite astonishing, in my opinion.

1:14:471:14:50

In the United States, it was the actions of the US mail

1:14:521:14:56

that led to the closing down of Trends and PacNet in America.

1:14:561:15:00

We asked the FCA if they would appear in this programme

1:15:051:15:08

and explain the actions they're taking

1:15:081:15:10

to help people like Elizabeth.

1:15:101:15:12

They were not prepared to take part.

1:15:141:15:16

I think the Financial Conduct Authority

1:15:171:15:19

should certainly talk to you.

1:15:191:15:21

Fraud is one of the very few crimes that's growing,

1:15:211:15:25

and around half of all crime is fraud,

1:15:251:15:29

and I use the word fraud, which technically is what it is,

1:15:291:15:32

but as far as this lady's concerned, it is theft

1:15:321:15:35

as much as if someone came and took her handbag in the street.

1:15:351:15:39

As Elizabeth continues to rebuild her life,

1:15:451:15:48

the investigation she helped trigger

1:15:481:15:51

continues in Europe and the United States,

1:15:511:15:54

where more payment processors are being investigated.

1:15:541:15:57

Spotlight can reveal that a multi-force investigation

1:16:021:16:05

is currently ongoing in the United Kingdom

1:16:051:16:08

and it's codenamed Operation Nuncio.

1:16:081:16:11

As one source close to the investigation told Spotlight,

1:16:121:16:16

this is being seen as an all-out effort

1:16:161:16:18

to stamp out the scourge of scam mail once and for all.

1:16:181:16:22

Until then, people in Northern Ireland will remain at risk

1:16:231:16:27

of falling victim to scams

1:16:271:16:29

that net an estimated £100 million here every year.

1:16:291:16:34

A special investigation into mail fraud scammers who conned an elderly Northern Ireland woman out of thousands of pounds. Chris Moore follows the money trail to Holland, England, the United States and Switzerland to uncover an international criminal enterprise raking in millions every year.


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