Inside the Bitcoin scammer gangs using fake celeb endorsements to fleece vulnerable savers for £200million-a-year

Our reporters have infiltrated a British gang impersonating real companies in scams known as "clone fraud" to steal money from householders.

The brazen crooks have revealed how victims are duped over the phone into making investments for sums of cash from £5,000 up to more than a million but never receive a penny of their money back.

Victims are asked to invest in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin – illegally advertised online using celebs’ faces such as Sir Richard Branson and Lord Alan Sugar – or even stocks and shares.

Our investigation comes as financial journalist Martin Lewis sues Facebook over the failure to stop scammers using his image to advertise Bitcoin trading and other investment schemes.

The crooks based around the globe – many of them Brits trading on the City of London's reputation – steal hundreds of millions from householders which they splurge on property, sports cars, champagne and drugs.

Fraud cops estimate British savers lose almost £200million-a-year with the real figure thought to be much higher because many victims are too ashamed to report their crime or unaware they have been scammed.

We have spoken to several scam victims including a vulnerable 79-year-old who was robbed of £18,000 but still believed the fraudsters were working on getting his money back until he spoke to The Sun.

Another victim is a tube worker who was fleeced for £16,000 after being lured into investing in Bitcoin falsely advertised using the faces of Sir Richard Branson and journalist Martin Lewis.

Celebs including Lord Sugar, Mr Lewis and Mr Branson have all complained about the use of their images on adverts and had no knowledge of the Bitcoin investment schemes.

The victims – many of them aged over 60 – have told of their devastation and sense of helplessness after being duped in a crime which is on the rise with up to 750 fresh police reports a month.

Now The Sun has been able to expose a gang boasting of how it rips off savers from a base in south-east Asia.

Our undercover reporter, posing as a candidate to work as a scammer, was introduced to one of the brazen fraudsters by a middle-man claiming to be a recruiter based in England.

Smooth-talking Dan Lea, 37, who is the director of his own Brit-based cryptocurrency investment firm, boasted how he placed “hundreds” of candidates with firms.

The recruiter, from Basingstoke, Hampshire, told how “aggressive phone monkeys” who have their “morals completely turned off” can get people to buy “dog s***” or “cat s***”.

Lea, said to earn up to £750 after placing a candidate, boasted over the phone: “You need to be aggressive and smart, on your toes and wow that person in the first five seconds – people buy from people – they don’t buy products.

“If somebody likes you, they will buy from you – dog s***, cat s*** or a Ferrari.

“The morals have to be completely turned off, so if you’ve got morals you ain’t going to get it.”

Lea then set up a group WhatsApp conversation introducing our reporter to “James”, a Brit managing a gang of 40 scammers working in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, who boasted they are ripping off savers.

There is no suggestion Lea, who acts as a recruiter, himself defrauded victims over the phone.

In a follow-up call James, speaking from Cambodia, brazenly told our reporter how they “fabricated” companies to steal money from “stupid” and “greedy” people.

A whistleblower has told how James's bogus investment firm is similar to one previously run by Brit Toby Nelhams who was convicted of fraud last year in Cambodia.

Nelhams was originally suspected by Thai police of involvement in the murder of Brit fraudster Tony Kenway last year but has not been prosecuted and is no longer thought to be wanted over the crime.

The gang pay developers to create swanky websites and route numbers through financial centres such as Hong Kong to con savers – while regularly creating new company names to imitate real firms.

James boasted the criminal outfit, mainly employing Brits, was a “Wolf of Wall Street” scam making £750,000-a-month with staff splurging victims’ cash on “beer”, “drugs and hookers”.

He added: “What we do is very unethical, if you have no moral dilemmas you’ll do very well in this business.

“We go after people who have money and are greedy enough and stupid enough to send us their money and that’s how we’re able to pay our brokers 20% on any account they open.

When asked whether people will get their money back, a laughing James replied:  “No, they are not going to get that money back – we’ve got brokers who open three, four, five accounts a month.

“They’ve got very nice apartments and they like to go out at the weekends and spend their money on drugs and hookers. I’ve done it for ten years myself. Majority of our guys here are Brits

“We typically deal with US stocks – we’ve worked with Twitter in the past, Facebook, Goldman Sachs. We’ve just dealt with a couple of IPOs – anything basically.

“Some of the best emails I’ve seen come in people have spent hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars complaining ‘you’re a sophisticated scam’.

“And when you hear that, you think, ‘yeah, that’s exactly what we are’ and when you tell us we’re sophisticated you make us proud because then we’ve done our jobs well.”

A number of fraud gangs have also used online adverts with celebrity endorsements to con people into investments – particularly Bitcoin trading.

Adverts using famous faces such as Virgin entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, businessman Sir Alan Sugar and financial journalist Martin Lewis have appeared on Facebook and the web alongside fake quotes.

Insiders have told how this craze followed a spate of American celebrities including boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr, actor Jamie Foxx, and model Paris Hilton backing legitimate Bitcoin and cryptocurrency trading firms.

One company our investigators identified is known as Zuercher Capital – which claims to be based in Zurich, Switzerland.

In fact its shady web domain is registered in Barbados and a phone number used to set up the website has previously been linked to a poker and banking scam.

The company’s website and logo – designed to look legitimate and similar to banking giant UBS – allows victims to see their cash online on fake platforms but which they can never withdraw.

We recorded them on the phone after they had duped London tube worker Simon Aidoo, 54, who lost more than £16,000 after investing in a bid to pay for private treatment for his wife’s arthritis.

Whistleblower "Steve", who used to work in the industry and whose name we have changed, explained the Zuercher business was a typical clone fraud scam.

Steve said: “They are all selling either stocks or shares, Bitcoin, binary or fake art – the product doesn’t matter.

“It’s whatever the buzz is at the moment they just monitor Bloomberg and CNBC to see what’s in the news. But Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are exploding because they’re easy.

“They target the UK, Australia and New Zealand, also Europe but not America because of the penalties.

“If they [phone fraudsters] are very good they can make £4,000 or £5,000 a week – and that’s as good as you’ll get [opening accounts] on the phone.

“Then loaders who come in for bigger amounts after an opener are a different animal altogether – you can put a zero on that.

“They are seriously ruthless people. And then above that you get in to the people running show who are the owners, work it out for yourself, they are ripping off millions off.

“Guys have bought houses in America or Europe with the money. They spend it on motorbikes, girls, drugs.

“It’s a crazy lifestyle. You get paid every week, company organises parties once a week which can be pretty spectacular. They take over a bar or a club and just go mad – champagne, drugs and girls.”

A team of fraudsters based in Sofia, Bulgaria, had been making up to £250,000-a-week according to insiders and were linked to fraud gangs in Madrid.

The Sun identified one 20-year-old member of the gang, from Liverpool, who boasted online about buying flash TVs and watches with the cash he made from defrauding Brits while working abroad.

The con man's mum initially lied by claiming her son had never worked in the European country despite a Facebook picture showing the pair together while he claimed to not be "doing that anymore".

Police have told how the fraudsters generate their call data through a number of methods including buying it on the dark web, hacks, phishing or even bogus telephone marketing surveys know as vishing.

But UK authorities are struggling to pursue the crooks with City of London police stating roughly 50 per cent of all fraud and cyber crime originating from abroad.

A spokesman for the force, which leads nationally on investment fraud crime and is now investigating Zuercher Capital, added: "Never take up offers of investments on the spot from cold calls.

"Unlike most other crimes, fraud and cyber is often committed by criminals who never come into contact with their victim."

Banks HSBC and Barclays, whose logos appear on Zuercher Capital's website, denied any links to the fraudsters and have taken steps to remove their branding from the web page.

Recruiter Lea refused to comment when approached by The Sun on camera and denied ever speaking to our undercover reporter "Tony".

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