Richard Branson got a call from the UK Secretary of State for Defence asking for his help in a covert ransom payment of $5m to rescue a ranking diplomat from kidnappers; Branson recognised the man's voice but he was suspicious of the plan to validate the scheme by sending an assistant to lobby of a government building to meet the Secretary's secretary and exchange codewords.
So Branson called the Secretary's office and learned that the call was a fake, placed by an impersonator who was trying to rip him off for $5 million.
Six months later, Branson got a call from a rich friend asking him to pay back the $2 million Branson had borrowed to pay for relief in the British Virgin Islands, where Branson's house had been wiped out by Hurricane Irma. The man told Branson that they'd spoken at length and Branson had explained that the communications lines between the UK and the BVI were so bad that he couldn't get at his money and the need was urgent.
It was another scam, pulled off by another impersonator.
It's possible that the scammers were using software like Lyrebird, which ingests a collection of samples and then creates a software profile that can convincingly mimic the voice and speech of anyone. It's also possible that they were just a good, old fashion Rich Little-style impersonator. Whoever they are, they're $2m richer.
I spoke to the business person and had to tell him specific details of our last get-together before he was convinced it was really me and not the conman. We quickly realised he had been duped out of his money by a criminal pretending to be me. He has spent his life being cautious and told me he couldn't believe how stupid he had been. He is an incredibly generous person who gives to all sorts of causes, and it is just too sad for words that of all people it was he who had fallen for it.
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.
There has been a big rise in fake ad scams online recently, and I'd urge everyone to look out for them and report any you see. It's not just online it can happen – it could be on the phone or even in person. But this one really takes the biscuit! I'm very sorry for this incredibly kind man and incredibly grateful that they were willing to help us after the hurricane. If only their money had gone to the people of the BVI, not the conman.
The two million dollar heist [Richard Branson/Virgin]
(via The Grugq)