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A man from Kent has been sentenced after targeting a pensioner as part of an elaborate scam, which saw the victim nearly hand over his life savings following the six-week ruse.
Michael O’Neill, 38, of Spielman Road, Dartford, Kent, was sentenced to twenty one months imprisonment suspended for two years, 30 days rehabilitation activity requirement and ordered to pay £1,000 within 3 months, for conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation at Inner London Crown Court on Wednesday 14 July 2021.
O’Neill targeted the victim in February 2020, pretending to be a builder and claiming vital work needed to be completed on the victim’s property. When the victim began to suspect a scam and informed his neighbour, O’Neill then posed as a police officer and pretended that he was investigating the builders. The fraudster went on to convince the victim that he needed to pay for court costs and costs relating to releasing his compensation money.
T/Detective Constable Phillip Wilkes from the City of London Police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) said:
“This was a complex and convincing scam, thought to have been orchestrated by a number of fraudsters who preyed on an elderly, unwell victim.
“Thanks to the eagle-eyed NatWest staff who noticed a suspicious transaction, and the concerned neighbour who reported the initial case to the police, O’Neill has been brought to justice. This case demonstrates that, whilst there are some bad apples in society looking to exploit the vulnerable, there are still many caring individuals willing to look out for one another and help the police in protecting our more vulnerable community members from crime.”
O’Neill’s initial scam saw the victim lose £2,250 to the fake ‘builders’ who claimed that work was required on the front of his house. When £600 more was demanded, the victim refused to pay and spoke to his neighbour about the possibility of it being a scam. The neighbour called the police and the victim was visited by genuine police officers from the Metropolitan Police Service.
A few weeks later, O’Neill visited the victim and requested £15,000 to cover costs for an alleged court case involving the builders, which the victim paid via cheque. The victim was also told he would be entitled to £151,000 in compensation. However, he would need to pay £75,000 to the court via debit card. The victim arranged a meeting with O’Neill in London’s Hatton Garden area to complete the transaction.
O’Neill directed the victim to a watch shop in order to make the ‘payment to the court’ and instructed him to say that he was purchasing two Rolex watches if asked. Both payments on the victim’s cards were declined, and he was advised to visit the bank resolve the issue.
The fraudster then directed the victim to the High Holborn branch of NatWest. Staff at the branch were sceptical about the circumstances surrounding the payment, which led them to contact the police. Officers from the City of London Police attended the scene and quickly circulated a description of the suspect, resulting in O’Neill’s arrest around an hour after the victim first entered the bank.
Jason Costain, Head of Fraud Prevention at NatWest said:
“We are committed to doing everything we can to help our customers, especially when they have been the victim of a scam. All of our branch colleagues are trained in the banking protocol and we have successfully prevented hundreds of Natwest Group customers from being scammed since the Banking Protocol was launched in 2016. We are extremely proud of our High Holborn Branch colleagues who prevented our customer from losing their life savings and we are grateful for the support from the City of London Police. Since 2016 the Banking Protocol has helped countless victims across the UK, prevented over £100m falling into the hands of criminals and has led to 664 arrests being made.”