WhatsApp messages included, "that was a great kidnap"
Four men from Yorkshire have been jailed for nearly 20 years for their involvement in a fraud scheme where they mocked the victims on WhatsApp.
A fifth man was also convicted and will be sentenced at a later date.
Leeds Crown Court heard that the fraudsters scammed several elderly victims across Yorkshire by cold-calling and acting as tradesmen selling home security and improvements.
In a series of chats on WhatsApp, the criminals mocked their victims, identifying their “perfect profile” target as a “single lady 89-years-old” who was “blind”, “disabled” or had “Alzheimer’s”.
The fraud came to light after several complaints were made about Bespoke Home Security Ltd, and Bespoke Home Improvements Group Ltd, over the way it was conducting business.
Imran Shan, Nasar Munir and Mohammed Zulfqar Abbas were stated as the company’s directors.
Mohammed Mansha Abbas had a controlling interest even though he was already banned from being a company director.
An investigation revealed that Munir had set up a call centre company under the name Mohammed Nasar called National Survey Line Ltd, which was based in the same building.
Fraud victims were initially cold-called, with staff reading off dishonest scripts discussing rising crime rates and scaring them into thinking they needed to install security measures.
The men posed as salesmen who would visit their victims later the same day if they agreed to a home visit.
However, they would often stay at the victims’ homes for several hours, coercing them into signing up to contracts for overpriced and unnecessary work.
In several cases, the victims were told they were eligible for a Government grant towards the security work, despite no such grant existing.
In some instances, the fraudsters would take the victim to a bank to secure deposits, while the victims also had loans taken out in their names without their knowledge, with repayments they could not afford.
The Trading Standards Authority identified 28 victims.
In September 2016, warrants were executed at the business premises and home addresses of Zulfqar Abbas, Mohammed Vaqaas Abbas and Shan.
In March 2017, police were informed about a victim in Pontefract complaining that £3,500 had been taken from his account after being visited by men claiming to be from a solar company.
The men said he had been due a refund and gave him a chip and pin machine.
Detectives subsequently identified eight further victims who were scammed in the same way.
Munir and Mansha Abbas were arrested later that month. An iPhone was seized from Munir which revealed WhatsApp messages taunting the victims.
WhatsApp messages included, “that was a great kidnap”, “taking people in your car against there will lol [sic]”, “hahahahaha” and “this will never get old lol”.
Others discussed their victims, writing, “cancelled 20mins after he left the house”, “he said he forced me to do acts I didn’t want to” and “let me guess he’s been abused, another one of your victims Nas lol”.
Detective Constable Donna Atkinson said:
“I am pleased with the sentences handed down today in what has been a very complex and lengthy investigation for West Yorkshire Police and Trading Standards.
“These men targeted people who were vulnerable because of their age to defraud them out of thousands of pounds.”
“They also targeted people who had been genuine customers in the past and abused their trust to steal huge amounts of money.
“These criminals were very sophisticated and manipulative, making money in any way possible.”
Mansha Abbas pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy to defraud. He was jailed for nine years and was banned from directing for another 10 years.
Zulfqar Abbas was jailed for four-and-a-half years. Vaqaas Abbas was sentenced to three years in prison. Shan was jailed for three years.
Yorkshire Post reported that Munir will be sentenced on March 17, 2020.
A sixth man, Roman Le, was found guilty of money laundering. He had sourced the card machine. He received a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years and ordered to do 150 hours of unpaid work.