Fraudsters jailed after £350k vitamin scam, targeting victims in Welwyn Garden City, St Albans and Hitchin

PUBLISHED: 12:39 13 November 2017 | UPDATED: 12:39 13 November 2017

St Albans Crown Court. Picture: Danny Loo

St Albans Crown Court. Picture: Danny Loo

Archant

Two men who preyed on vulnerable and elderly people in Hertfordshire have been jailed for a total of eight years.

The duo were prosecuted by Hertfordshire Trading Standards after selling extortionately priced vitamins.

The national scam affected around 2,000 people and both men were found guilty of four counts of money laundering at St Albans Crown Court on Tuesday, November 7.

Each was sentenced to four years in prison.

Hertfordshire County Council’s Trading Standards brought the case against Fredy Fernandes, 44, and Salvador Socorro Rodrigues, also 44, from Peterborough.

The pair were the sole directors of the companies ‘House of Naturecare Limited’ and ‘Nutri Care Quest Limited’.

The court heard that through the activity of these two businesses, elderly and vulnerable residents throughout Hertfordshire and the rest of the UK were targeted, including residents in Welwyn Garden City, Hitchin, Ware, Bushey, Watford, St Albans and Hemel Hempstead.

Fernandes and Rodrigues were part of the scam which involved call-centres based in India bombarding pensioners with phone calls to persuade them that they should buy overpriced vitamins for health reasons.

One 94-year-old man was convinced that omega oil tablets could help prevent lung cancer and an 80-year-old widow was pressured into buying 14 bottles of vitamins for nearly £400 that she did not need or want.

The Trading Standards’ investigation was supported by officers from the City of London Police, who executed search warrants in Peterborough.

The searches revealed numerous boxes of vitamins, with some of the products containing twice the amount of lead permitted and others deficient in declared vitamins.

Officers also seized 963 invoices, totalling £256,917.22 and further investigation revealed that the company accounts held nearly £350,000 of money made from this fraudulent activity.

In mitigation it was noted that they were both of previous good character, family men and had worked hard since coming to the UK.

The judge, Recorder Samantha Cohen told the pair that “you are undoubtedly and understandably upset at the positions you now find yourself in, but feel your regret is for yourself and your families and not truly for the positions of your victims.

“The harm includes the distress caused to victims for the fraudulent sales.

“They were caused anxiety, damaged confidence and fear of persistent cold calls.

“Neither of you are fit to be the directors of companies” and she disqualified them for eight years each.

Councillor Terry Hone, cabinet member for community safety at Hertfordshire County Council, said: “The court heard how our most vulnerable residents were exploited and fell victim to this aggressive cold calling scam in their own homes – a place where they should have felt safe.

“Instead they were bombarded by calls demanding purchases of unwanted and grossly overpriced vitamins.

“Officers from the Hertfordshire Trading Standards team have worked tirelessly to bring a successful prosecution against these callous criminals who were persistent and aggressive.

“Under the Proceeds of Crime Act we will be seeking to compensate the victims and ensure these individuals will no longer benefit from their ill-gotten gains.

“We want to warn Hertfordshire residents and others across the UK about scams similar to this that we believe are still ongoing. “If you are cold called by someone trying to sell you a product that you do not need, want or do not know the detail of please hang up the phone.

“If a caller uses high pressure techniques, the likelihood is they are trying to con you – so please don’t engage with them.

“If you have received any cold calls about vitamins or other products and have been victim to this type of activity please report it to Action Fraud.”

Action Fraud can be contacted on 0300 123 2040 or via the website: www.actionfraud.police.uk

For advice on scams, contact Citizens Advice on 03454 04 05 06.

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