Essex ringleader’s gang forced to pay almost all fraud money back to victims

James Ward

James Ward - Credit: Archant

A Pleshey man, who was one of the ringleaders of a cold calling fraudster gang, has been ordered by a judge to pay back his illegal gains to compensate victims across the south-east.

Wayne Smith

Wayne Smith - Credit: Archant

James Ward, 30, of Twin Willows, Pleshey, took part in a series of frauds which saw some people defrauded of their life savings and netted the organised crime group £256,000 in 2011.

The group targeted more than 25 elderly and vulnerable people in Sussex, Surrey, and south and east London in a cold calling scam that saw victims contacted and told that their drains needed repairing as they were affecting neighbours properties.

Many people handed over cash and after the initial contact, the victims were then conned into transferring more money into accounts set up by the gang through persistent bullying and phone calls.

Ward pleaded guilty, along with 11 other members of the gang, and was sentenced to a total of eleven and a half years at trial in November 2014. Fellow ringleader Wayne Smith, 33, of St Vincents Close, Girton, Cambridge received eight years for his part in the frauds.

Ward and Smith were ordered to pay back £91,500 each from assets that they admitted they held after hearings at Lewes Crown Court in September and November.

In total, £254,513.65, which represents 99.4 per cent of the total loss to victims, has been ordered to be repaid by Confiscation Order under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA).

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Each order to gang members is enforceable and defendants will have to serve additional prison sentences of up to two years if they fail to pay.

A total of 25 years imprisonment was handed down to the five main offenders of the gang, including Ward and Smith, and the remainder received suspended sentences and unpaid work orders.

Detective Constable Fleur Jones, of Sussex Police, said: “‘This has been a long and complex investigation, but it is good that POCA has now been used to make criminals pay back what they took, and help redress the damage that these heartless individuals have done to these victims and families lives.”

Detective Inspector Mick Richards said: “Ward and Smith were the ringleaders of this heartless conspiracy to defraud trusting and often vulnerable people in their own homes.

“Wayne Smith targeted the potential victims and made telephone contact with them. After the initial contact, the fraud was conducted over the telephone. The victim would be continually harassed over the telephone until payment was made.

“If the victim did not agree immediately, they would be bombarded with calls. The victims were persuaded by a combination of bullying persistence and tales of the hardship caused to their neighbours. So it was not just their insecurity but also their good nature that was cynically exploited. “These conmen preyed on the victim for further payments until either they refused to pay more or their funds were exhausted. In some cases the victims ended up handing over their life savings.

“James Ward was the man behind the money laundering. He was Smith’s main accomplice and played a pivotal role in recruiting the money launderers and communicating with them.”

One of the victims, a woman living near Crawley in mid-Sussex said at the end of the trial in 2014: “I am constantly wary of unknown callers to the house whether they be on foot or in a car or van. If they have merely taken a wrong turning I wonder if they are having a good look around.

“The whole experience has continued to cause me stress as each time the telephone rings I wonder if it will be the start of another scam rather than looking forward to the prospect of talking to a friend of mine.”

Police have issued the following advice regarding scams and cold calls:

•Do not give or transfer money to people you do not know, no matter how convincing or genuine they seem,

•Never give your PIN number and cash card to anyone.

•Do not believe anyone who cold calls when they tell you your drains are blocked or your roof needs repairing.

•Do not be afraid to say no, shut the door, or put down the phone and check with someone you trust.