Con artist couple are jailed for stealing £650,000 by cold-calling pensioners
A con artist couple who swindled pensioners out of more than £650,000 by cold-calling their victims and posing as lawyers promising payouts on their former timeshare investments have been jailed.
Sean Thompson, 49, and mother-of-three Caroline Preston, 38, duped victims into paying fees for non-existent legal work after wrongly telling them courts in Portugal and Spain had given ‘judgement’ against the notorious Club Class timeshare empire which collapsed in 2012.
In fact the liquidators of the seven businesses collectively known as the ‘Club Class companies’ were completing the winding up process, and subsequently confirmed investors who paid thousands each would not receive any damages.
One victim lost £63,000 whilst a couple lost £387,812 from the savings in the pair’s scam. One woman died of cancer after losing £150,000.
Police said Thompson and Preston befriended their victims and even concocted stories about family bereavements before persuading them to transfer money. In all, £653,674 was stolen.
At Minshull Street Crown Court, Thompson and Preston, who lived together in Reddish, Stockport, admitted fraud and money laundering.
Thompson was jailed for six-and-a-half years and Preston was sentenced to three years. Both will face Proceeds of Crime hearings.
Sean Thompson, 49, and mother-of-three Caroline Preston, 38, duped victims into paying fees for non-existent legal work after wrongly telling them courts in Portugal and Spain had given ‘judgement’ against the notorious Club Class timeshare empire which collapsed in 2012
The scam took place between 2018 and last year after another timeshare compensation company Thompson ran in Cornwall went bust following concerns over a cold-call campaign against other Club Class customers.
Prosecutor Jonathan Savage said: ‘These defendants targeted elderly and vulnerable victims as a result of timeshare holiday agreements. They persuaded the victims that they were dealing with foreign courts on cases relating to compensation with legal fees and others fees to be paid upfront.
‘Thompson was the main participant. He was responsible for contacting the victims and persuading them that compensation was due. He told them he was a professional with timeshare agreements.
Preston was sentenced to three years
‘They used a law firm in London to gain credibility and used mock invoices and even the firm’s letter head. They obtained professional fees from the victims. Both defendants had personal relationships with their victims to gain their confidence.’
A 74-year-old victim was contacted by Thompson and told he was in line for 6,000 compensation over his Club Class membership but was advised to pay bank and court fees to get the money released from an account in Malaga, Spain.
A woman promised £115,000 in compensation lost £24,000 after being told she would also have to pay fees by Thompson who was posing as a barrister from a London law practice.
A couple aged in their 70s who had a timeshare agreement from 30 years ago were contacted by Thompson who said he was a ‘freelance financial expert’ and promised them they would receive a total of £135,000 which he claimed he had been awarded to them by a court in Spain – but only if they paid fees for the transfer.
Thompson also produced forged letters purporting to be from a law firm and tugged at the pair’s heartstrings by falsely claiming his wife had died of cancer and that his daughter attempted suicide. They agreed to meet him at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in London only to be met by two workers who said they might be a victim of fraud.
The couple were said to have been so desperate to recoup their money that they paid even more to Thompson and they spent their life savings and had to rely on friends to borrow money. In total, £387,812 of their savings were lost.
A fourth victim, a woman dying of cancer, was contacted by Thompson claiming to work on behalf of ‘Braithwaites of London’ and during negotiations was told his wife had had a heart attack in Menorca.
She could not afford the fees being asked for so she borrowed money from friends and was advised to pawn her own jewellery. In total, she lost £150,000.
Defence lawyer Rachel Woods for Preston said: ‘It’s plainly obvious that this defendant played much less of a role than her co-defendant. The victims in this case were speaking to her as the secretary’
In statements one victim said: ‘I am so shocked they have taken advantage of me like this’ whilst another said: ‘We have used all of our savings and are now living off our pensions only. I am worried I will not be able to get any of our money back.’
A third said: ‘I have been widowed twice. I do not understand how they could do this to people.’
Thompson and Preston were reported to police in November last year.
Defence lawyer Rachel Woods for Preston said: ‘It’s plainly obvious that this defendant played much less of a role than her co-defendant. The victims in this case were speaking to her as the secretary.
‘Clearly, he was the brains behind the project. It was sophisticated and well set up.’
Detective Constable Shaun Nicholls, of Greater Manchester Police Economic and Cyber Crime Section, said: ‘What Thompson and Preston did to vulnerable and elderly people is shocking and I hope this outcome provides the victims with a sense of closure.
‘Members of the public should be vigilant when it comes to discussing money with third parties, especially when sending funds or providing account details.’
The seven businesses which formed Club Class were closed down in 2012 after numerous complaints by consumers.
The UK Insolvency Service subsequently provided details of how timeshare owners were lured to meetings and promised disposal of their existing timeshares and enrolment in a new, alternative holiday product.
But the timeshare disposals never happened and the ‘holiday clubs’ and offers were bogus.