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STRANGER THAN FICTION

A fraudster posing as Britain’s defense minister tried to con Richard Branson out of $5 million

Richard Branson
Reuters/Lucas Jackson
Targeted.
By Sam Rigby
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Richard Branson has shared details of a stranger-than-fiction scam that almost conned him out of $5 million.

The Virgin Group founder was contacted by someone alleging to be Britain’s defense minister, Sir Michael Fallon, who requested financial help to secure the release of a diplomat being held by terrorists.

“This story sounds like it has come straight out of a John le Carré book or a James Bond film, but it is sadly all true,” he wrote in a blog post.

“Six months ago my assistant received a written note on what appeared to be official government notepaper from Secretary of State for Defence Sir Michael Fallon, requesting an urgent call with me,” he continued.

“I called Sir Michael on the number given. He told me it was an incredibly sensitive matter and that he wanted to be sure there was nobody else in the room whilst I talked to him.”

The individual told Branson that while the government wouldn’t normally negotiate with terrorists, they were willing to make an exception for this particular diplomat. He added that the government were speaking with business leaders in the UK to help with an immediate payout.

While Branson was skeptical and told the scammer that he’d have to verify the information before agreeing, he was caught off guard by the similarity to Fallon’s voice.

However, when he reached out to Fallon’s office, his secretary assured him that the information was false, and the matter was passed on to the police.

Six months on, it appears the same conman may have targeted Branson again, this time posing as him to get a loan of $2 million from one of his US-based friends. The businessman, who Branson doesn’t mention by name, was fooled into thinking Branson had asked for a short-term loan to help the victims of Hurricane Irma.

These recent developments have prompted Branson to go public in the hope someone has information that can help the police investigation.

“It’s a heist of enormous scale, and I feel it is likely to be the same person who tried to con me earlier this year. I must admit I regret not publicising the earlier attempt to con me sooner, to have helped alert others to the danger, but we had to be sensitive to ongoing investigations,” he said.

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