A conman posing as Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon almost scammed millions of pounds out of Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire tycoon has revealed.
In a frank blog post, he also spoke of a separate scam, where someone posing as Sir Richard managed to swindle one of his friends, “a very successful businessperson”, out of $2m (£1.5m).
The first incident took place six months ago when his assistant received a written note on what appeared to be official Government paper purporting to be from Sir Michael, claiming that a British diplomat had been kidnapped.
A conman, who “sounded exactly like Sir Michael” during a phone call, said UK laws prevented the Government paying a ransom and claimed he was now asking a syndicate of wealthy businesspeople to foot the bill.
The scammers asked Sir Richard to cough up $5m (£3.7m). However, the cautious Virgin Group founder called Sir Michael’s office.
“I rang Downing Street and asked to be put through to Sir Michael’s office. His secretary assured me that Sir Michael hadn’t spoken to me and that nobody had been kidnapped,” he wrote.
“It was clearly a scam. I told them what had happened and we passed the matter over to the police.”
In the other scam, the criminals posed as Sir Richard and secured a “loan” from one of his friends.
They managed to rip off the fellow businessperson after they claimed the money would go towards helping people in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) following Hurricane Irma.
Sir Richard said: “As I got back online for the first time after the devastating Hurricane Irma in the British Virgin Islands, I received an email from a friend in the US.
“A very successful businessperson, they asked me when I would be returning the three week loan I had asked for to help the BVI communities. I had no idea what they were talking about.”
The money swiftly disappeared after the scammers emailed and phoned the friend.
“When the call happened the conman did an extremely accurate impression of me and spun a big lie about urgently needing a loan while I was trying to mobilise aid in the BVI,” Sir Richard wrote.
The 67-year-old has now called on anyone with information to contact US police or his own Heist Team.