A conman who posed as a bank employee to defraud an elderly Fulwood couple out of their home and life savings has been told to pay back more than £300,000 or face another three years in jail.Advertisement
Syed Bhukari, 38, splashed out on business class flights, luxury hotels, Rolex watches and designer clothes and handbags, while the couple – who both have dementia, faced losing their home.
The fraudster – who in a separate crime tried to fake his own death to claim a £1m insurance payout – even paid for a cosmetic procedure to have a wig fitted, complete unbeknown to the couple, who thought he was helping them.
He was only caught when the couple’s home was sold from under them, without their knowledge, a court heard.
Bukhari, now of no fixed address but formerly of Deepdale Avenue, Withington, Manchester, was sentenced to seven years and 11 months in September 2018 after pleading guilty to fraud.
Read more: Crime news from Blog Preston
Lancashire Constabulary launched an investigation after a member of the couple’s family learned of the house sale and reported it. Further enquiries also revealed that numerous bank accounts and credit cards had been taken out in their name.
Bukhari had withdrawn from their existing accounts and stole in excess of £150,000 of their life savings whilst purporting to be their son or a bank employee helping the pair.
His activities began around November 2017 when the couple, who are both in their 80s, were contacted by a male under the guise of ‘Gerry Patel’ from their bank, Bukhari would go onto make a £40,000 online loan application in the husband’s name – which was fortunately cancelled – and then pose as the couple’s son in an attempt to get control of the account.
When the couple were visited by a PCSO and a financial investigator after concerns were raised relating to unusual financial activity, the wife declined any assistance, having been totally convinced that she was receiving genuine help by Bukhari.
She stated that none of their money was missing and that an Asian man, believed to be Bukhari, from their bank had been helping them.
The financial investigator visited the couple’s bank who confirmed that someone had been to see the couple but it was later revealed that this was a legitimate visit and was not the same person the wife had referred to.
Within weeks, 10 different bank accounts and credit cards in the victim’s names had been opened fraudulently via online applications. One of the accounts had almost £100,000 deposited into it, which was later found to be from savings and investments belonging to the couple.
The bank froze the account after becoming suspicious and so unable to access the money, Bukhari then began making multiple calls to the bank claiming to be the son, questioning why the account was blocked stating his father would be attending the Blackpool branch to resolve the problem.
Later that day, the husband attended the bank with a note stating that it was evidence of where the money had come from and that the details should be sent to head office but he was confused as to why he was there with no knowledge of the account.
Staff at the bank were so concerned about him, they helped him find his car and contacted the police. They left the block on the account in place.
As a result, two PCSOs visited the couple’s home in Fulwood later that afternoon. Their door was answered by Bukhari, again using the name Gerry Patel, He was on the phone to the bank still trying to get the account unblocked.
Confused, the wife told the PCSOs that Gerry was a friend of their son and that they were fine. “Gerry” said that the husband had probably been to the bank with his son. Later, the bank unblocked the account and all of the money was withdrawn or transferred.
It was established that the couple’s mail was also redirected which was stopped when the victim asked her postman why she hadn’t had any post. Bukhari also had their landline diverted to a line used by him.
In January 2018, the couple’s real son contacted the police, concerned that his parents had been victims of fraud after seeing letters about various overdrafts they had not applied for.
Detectives started an investigation and it was revealed that the couple had been driven round various banks in Chorley, Blackburn and Manchester. New accounts had been opened, requests were made to reactivate frozen accounts or to transfer various sums of money between accounts, all the while believing that “Gerry from the bank” was helping them from losing their home.
It was also found that their house – where they had lived for 40 years – had been sold on December 21st to a private company without their knowledge for less than the market value.
Bukhari was identified as a suspect and officers discovered he had made six trips to Dubai and Pakistan in three months often travelling in first and business class. On one occasion spent almost £11,000 on a hotel stay in Dubai.
He was on his return to the UK in February 2018. Lancashire officers met Bukhari from his business class seat on an Emirates flight at Manchester Airport. During his trips, Bukhari had spent tens of thousands of pounds on Rolex watches, jewellery, designer clothes, bags, phones and a cosmetic procedure to have a wig fitted.
When arrested he was found to be in possession of the couple’s identity documents and documentation relating to them and the fraudulent accounts.
Read more: Latest news from Blog Preston
Following his conviction, investigators from Lancashire Constabulary’s Economic Crime Unit and Preston CID combed through Bukhari’s finances and assets to establish exactly how much he benefitted from his criminal behaviour.
Those investigations under Proceeds of Crime powers found that Bukhari benefitted from his fraudulent activity to the tune of £561,058 and his total available assets totalled £307,759.
Bukhari had assets including jewellery, cash and mobile phones.
Last week, a Judge at Preston Crown Court ordered that if he didn’t pay the amount with three months he would face an extra 36 months in jail.
The house has since been transferred back to the couple and most of the money they were defrauded of has been reimbursed.
Read more: Nurse fuming after car smashed during 12 hour shift
Nomi Lillystone, from the Economic Crime Unit, said: “Bukhari has shown no remorse throughout this investigation and had instead sought to prolong proceedings for as long as he could.
“Lancashire Constabulary will proactively and robustly target those who seek to exploit the most vulnerable in society and hopefully the conclusion of this case will provide some form of closure for Bukhari’s victims and their family
“If you think you or someone you know has been a victim of something similar, please report it to us or Action Fraud on 0800 123 2040.
“Anyone who feels a registered property could be at risk from fraud can sign up to the award-winning free property monitoring service at https://propertyalert.landregistry.gov.uk/”
For advice on how to spot the signs and how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud, please visit Action Fraud’s website at actionfraud.police.uk.