Offenders who hounded innocent victim in fraud brought to justice

This story was published 26 November 2021

Three men have been sentenced at York Crown Court today after targeting an elderly and vulnerable pensioner in the Scarborough area and attempting to defraud him of £16,750 for alleged works to his property.

Askar and Bham

Even when building society staff challenged them, the gang produced forged documents to try to justify their bills.

The case unfolded due to an investigation launched in December 2019, when a relative was present in the victim’s house as the men called him to ask for money.

She reported the incident to police, who referred the case to Operation Gauntlet, the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Team hosted at our Trading Standards.

Handwritten notes were found in the victim’s house including the name ‘Mohammed Fiaz’ and the bank account details of Ahmed Motara. Notes also referred to ‘roof’ and ‘camera’, but no works undertaken by the men could be identified at the property.

The victim was hounded by the offenders with demands for payment, with 37 calls made to his landline number.

The calls were all made from the mobile phone of Shuraih Bham. Evidence obtained during the investigation also showed the three men were in regular contact, particularly around the times of the calls to the victim. They had also visited the victim at his home, on one occasion at 9 o’clock on a December evening.

Vigilance from the Nationwide and Skipton Building Societies prevented the fraud, which could have cost the victim £16,750.

Mohammed Fiaz was a customer of the Nationwide and the first two cheques paid by the victim were for £4,950 and £2,800.

The Nationwide suspected fraud and stopped the cheques being cashed. They requested Fiaz produce evidence that he was entitled to the monies.

Fiaz subsequently sent a forged letter from the victim to the Nationwide, which stated he was happy with the work and the price paid.

The letter had been provided by Bham. In addition, Fiaz sent a forged receipt for the final £9,000 cheque, claiming six windows and two doors had been replaced, 24 metres of fascias, soffits and guttering had been installed, roof patch up work, gardening work, internal works and patio works had been undertaken. These claims were false.

The Skipton Building Society also prevented the final £9,000 being paid from the victim’s account, after their financial investigations team suspected fraud and liaised with the Nationwide.

Bham and Fiaz entered guilty pleas to charges of conspiracy to defraud and Motara to a charge of attempted money laundering.

His Honour Judge Morris sentenced the three men today, as follows:

  • Shuraih Bham, 33, of Ivywood Court, Bradford, was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.
  • Mohammed Fiaz Askar, 39, of 96 Cumberland Road, Bradford, was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment.
  • Ahmed Motara, 23, of Furlong Road, Gloucester, was sentenced to 11 months imprisonment, suspended for one year, and ordered to undertake 300 hours of unpaid work.

Sentencing Bham and Fiaz Askar, The Recorder of York, His Honour Judge Morris said: “People in the twilight of their years are entitled to see out their time in peace and dignity and not to be ripped off by a couple of thieves like you.”

He added to Bham: “You met and hoodwinked this vulnerable gentleman. But due to the commendable vigilance of the Nationwide it was spotted and they are to be congratulated. Fortunately, the cheques were never cashed.”

Speaking after the case, County Councillor Derek Bastiman, Executive Member for Trading Standards, said: “This was an appalling case where a very elderly male with memory issues was hounded by these defendants for a number of weeks, with repeated demands for money. These defendants represent the lowest of the low and their behaviour will shock ordinary, law-abiding residents.

“Sadly, however, this is behaviour we see all too often in North Yorkshire and which we are committed to tackling in this way, to protect our most vulnerable residents.

“This case should act as a warning to those who are in a position to protect vulnerable residents, such as the building societies in this case, but also friends, family and neighbours, and also to those who may consider coming into our county to offend in this way. You will be brought to justice.”

Ed Fisher, Head of Fraud at Nationwide Building Society, added: “Each day we hear from our members about the devastating impact being a victim of a scam like this has on them. Alongside the financial impact, scams targeting someone in their own home can leave a lasting emotional impact. But we want to see scams like this prevented for all and we are glad we were able to identify the suspicious activity of one of our account holders and help prevent them from being successful. 

“We work closely with a range of organisations in a variety of sectors to try and prevent any scam we suspect and will always support prosecutions against anyone with criminal intent. We work around the clock to prevent scams, as well as providing publicly available education, which can also help empower people to know how to spot a scam and steps they can take to protect themselves.”

Ian Walker, Head of Financial Crime Skipton Building Society, said: “We are very pleased with this outcome and hope that it sends a message that firms like ours will work tirelessly to protect our customers from fraud and assist any effort to bring fraudsters to justice. We would also like to call out the hard work done by Trading Standards when a concern is identified and the lengths they have gone to, to achieve todays result.”