'How we lost our £200,000 life savings to scammers'
PUBLISHED: 12:14 14 February 2019 | UPDATED: 08:10 15 February 2019
Copyright: Archant 2019
A Watton couple reveal how they were “groomed” by scammers who made off with their £200,000 life savings.
The letters promised Terence Donelan hope: hope of getting some of his money back after years of losses.
Instead they robbed him of his life savings.
Terry, 80, and wife Glyn, 77, worked hard and saved harder. He was a project manager in the construction industry while she was a nurse.
Just before the financial crash in 2007 the Watton couple sold their holiday home in Spain, giving them £200,000 in savings.
But after the crash interest rates hit rock bottom and Mr Donelan wanted to get a better rate of return than building societies could offer. He hoped to use the money to get his six grandchildren through university.
He had read about Sir Alex Ferguson investing in wine and decided to spend a few thousand pounds on the first bottles.
He would eventually hand over around £30,000.
“We kept getting phone calls from lots of other companies after we invested saying you must invest in this,” Mr Donelan said. “They kept trying to sell me things and it was a daily thing. We don’t even know if the wine exists.”
He estimated he put another £35,000 into carbon credits which are permits traded to allow companies to emit carbon dioxide.
But the companies he invested in went bust. His main wine investments were held by a firm called the London Wine Shop which went into liquidation in 2015.
But that was only the beginning of his troubles.
Mr Donelan then received hundreds of letters and phone calls from scam companies claiming they could get his money back - for a fee.
“I thought I had to keep giving more money to get the money back we had lost,” he said.
But it sent him on a spiral which would eventually wipe out all of his savings.
Their son Sean, who only later found out about the extent of the fraud, said: “These other companies just came out the woodwork. It was like if you can put money in my account, say £2,000, you will have £40,000 the day after.
“The law is not there to stop them. They are so brazen.”
Their daughter Nadine added: “The men would ring regularly and ask how I was and speak to dad like they had known him for years. It was like they were grooming him.”
“You get drawn in,” Mr Donelan said. “I was paying the money into lots of different accounts. We were getting called every day up until 9pm.
“But by March 2016 we realised we had lost all the money. Boom, it hit me.”
His wife Glyn said: “We wanted to enjoy the rest of our lives but we can’t get the money back.”
With no money left they borrowed £40,000 from their bank secured against their house.
Sean said: “They are terrified that they could lose their home because of this.
“This has made my mum and dad quite poorly. My dad’s health has gone completely downhill and it is a worry for the whole family.”
But they are disappointed with the response from the bank and police.
“We were told to refer it to Action Fraud but we didn’t get any help from them,” Sean said.
Action Fraud said it assessed the report and found “insufficient lines of enquiry for an investigation based in the UK”.
A spokesman said: “The international nature of fraud poses difficulties in tracing payments and suspects.”
Mr Donelan said he was called by UK numbers and paid the money into UK bank accounts.
At one point he was paying thousands of pounds every few days to a man calling himself Barry Swan.
Mr Donelan made many of the payments by going to the NatWest branch in Wymondham. He said it was not until he had no money left that NatWest put a “stop” on his account.
But NatWest’s fraud team could not help them claiming, Sean said, that Watton was too far away for them to visit.
“Dad didn’t want anyone to worry but we gradually put a picture together,” Sean said.
“Dad is a very proud man. He has never been flashy. He was trying to invest for his children and grandchildren but it’s been absolutely awful.”
A NatWest spokesman said: “We would remind our customers to be vigilant and remind them of the advice on our website: namely that before committing to an investment, customers should ‘Take 5’ to understand the investment they are being requested to make and should seek reputable independent/legal advice.”
National fraud centre Action Fraud said scammers stole almost £200m last year by pretending to sell legitimate investments.
•How the scam worked
The scammers used a mixture of legitimate company names and persuasive language to get Mr Donelan to transfer thousands of pounds.
The con artists claimed to be working on behalf of firms Mr Donelan had invested in and gone bust.
They promised that if he paid a fee to them they could release the funds due to him.
For months they called him daily, building up a rapport and sometimes just talking rather than asking for any money.
Meanwhile they would send letters with the names of legitimate firms on the letterhead, claiming to have found a buyer for Mr Donelan’s wine.
In one letter they listed customers they claimed to be acting for, stating whether or not that person had paid and how much they paid.
In doing so the pressure was put on Mr Donelan to pay up.
He said the calls came from UK numbers and he paid to UK bank accounts.
In January, Mr Donelan received another letter from a company claiming to be an investment firm in London who could sell the wine for him.
The company has a website and is registered at Companies House.
It has not responded to our requests for comment.
A month before they realised they had been scammed, the Donelans ordered a new £10,000 conservatory which they have had to pay for, despite no longer wanting it.
Mr Donelan said he contacted the conservatory firm in March 2016 saying he could no longer afford it because of the scam and put the order on hold.
But the conservatory firm said in December he got back in touch with them asking them to install it in February 2017.
The company said it built the bespoke conservatory and arrived to install it.
But when they arrived they said they were told by the Donelans they could not afford it.
The firm said it was left with the conservatory so asked for the money as per the contract.
In December last year the Donelans received a court form stating the company was claiming £8,300 from them.
They have agreed to pay just under £8,000 and the conservatory will be delivered.
The Donelans deny asking the firm to install it.
•Follow the latest from our investigations unit on Facebook