A life coach was swindled out of her £400,000 savings by a fraudster who police believe is responsible for hundreds of similar scams.
Having just divorced, Leonie Morris hoped to use her money to build an investment portfolio that would earn her enough to retire early.
The 51-year-old, from Kendal, Cumbria, was charmed by Jonathan Forbes, who claimed to work for Cater Allen, the respected private banking arm of Santander.
Leonie Morris, 51, was conned out of her £400,000 life savings by a ‘well spoken’ fraudster called Jonathan Forbes who claimed to work for Santander
Miss Morris said he came across as ‘well-spoken and charismatic’ in phone calls and emails.
She made her first investment with him last June, and over the next six months she was told they did so well they topped £1million.
However, last month Miss Morris received a call from her bank, NatWest, which told her that Forbes was a fraudster who has disappeared with all her money.
It is believed Miss Morris is one of at least 200 people who have lost thousands in what police call a ‘very professional scam.’
She said: ‘I will never forget the terrible moment when NatWest rang to say that Mr Forbes was a fraudster. I felt a sickening twist in my stomach. And when they told me all £400,000 of my money was gone, I could hardly speak.
Last month Miss Morris received a call from her bank, NatWest, which told her that Forbes was a fraudster
‘I had been so thrilled to see my investments doing so well and was looking forward to a long and secure retirement. But now I’m left with nothing.’
Describing how she came across Forbes, she said: ‘I went online to compare high street bonds using Google and money supermarkets.
‘One bond offering by Cater Allen Private Bank looked favourable and offered Government-backed security. I had no idea when I clicked on the link it was anything but genuine.’
Miss Morris completed an online form and the next day she had the first call from Jonathan Forbes.
‘He was very well spoken and explained he was a wealth manager for Cater Allen Private Bank,’ she said. ‘He asked if we could meet, although as I was in Cumbria and he was in London I decided it could be difficult. But there was no hard sell. He simply sent me details of potential savings and investment products.’
Over the next few weeks Miss Morris took out a £100,000 high interest income bond. She said: ‘That paid me £500 interest into my account each month.
‘Once when the payment was late I rang the customer services number. My call was immediately picked up, someone explained there had been a glitch and the payment was made later that day. I can now see that the fact they were paying me money was a way of gaining my trust and luring me to part with more.’
Miss Morris made purchases totalling a further £200,000. Her last £50,000 was invested in December. She said: ‘It was my birthday and Jonathan Forbes rang saying my investment was approaching £1million in value. If I invested a further £50,000 to bring it over £1million he could drop his fee from 20 per cent of the profit to 5 per cent.’
But in January NatWest called. ‘One transaction had been red flagged. They couldn’t tell me why but asked me to ask my broker for financial details of clearing, which incredibly he provided. [My bank] said they’d investigated all my investments. I had to call the fraud squad as Jonathan was a fraudster and everything was gone. I’d got to know Jonathan so well. He was 51 and also divorced and often he was on the phone chatting for 45 minutes. It was a bombshell.’
It is believed Miss Morris is one of at least 200 people who have lost thousands in what police call a ‘very professional scam’
After it was reported to the fraud squad, Forbes continued to call. Miss Morris said: ‘The plan was to make out all was OK and I even recorded the calls. But suddenly the calls stopped. The police told me they believe around 200 people have been duped.’
She hopes telling her story will prevent others being conned. ‘Fortunately I own my home without a mortgage,’ she said. ‘It has been a nightmare but I am determined I won’t be a victim.’
The Metropolitan Police said people who had looked into investing in bonds had been contacted by fraudsters posing as staff from authorised firms.
A spokesman said: ‘The victims have made payments to bank accounts which are not linked with the firms. There have been no arrests and inquiries continue.’