War hero scammed out of life savings

NARG 1203054 Jack Syson. Picture : Adrian Murray. (1203054AM1)
NARG 1203054 Jack Syson. Picture : Adrian Murray. (1203054AM1)

A FORMER Harrogate Town player and war hero has been swindled out of life savings of more than £60,000.

Eighty-seven-year-old Jack Syson, from Nidderdale, was tricked out of his money by a cold-calling conman posing as a respectable stockbroker.

NARG 1203054 Jack Syson.. (1203054AM2)

NARG 1203054 Jack Syson.. (1203054AM2)

Mr Syson had hoped to increase his savings to £72,000 in order to pay off his mortgage, but instead he lost the lot.

His daughter, Alex Syson, said: “My father came from a council house background – they had nothing. He’s worked extremely hard all his life.

“All this money has been accumulated through hard work, saving and scrimping. The tragedy is that he took the money out of decent bonds, proper shares and savings.”

Mr Syson was cold-called last summer by a man calling himself Robert J Carnegie, who claimed to be working for a stockbroking company called Ascensus.

With an impressive website and offices in Exeter, Dublin, Germany, Switzerland and Hong Kong, the company seemed genuine and Mr Syson was assured that any money he invested would be doubled within the year.

Having started making share transactions with the company in July, Mr Syson did appear to be making money at first, on paper at least. But the company was bogus and its portfolio management operation was just an elaborate scam.

At one point, Mr Syson was told the company had changed its name to First Standard Management following a merger. It later transpired that the Financial Services Authority (FSA) had put out an alert on Ascensus in September 2011, which changed its name and identity to carry on with its illegal operations.

By December – after Mr Syson had made nine share transactions – his portfolio’s fortunes had changed and he was becoming increasingly worried. A survivor of the Arctic convoys of the Second World War, his health deteriorated as the scam progressed. He has a chronic heart condition, type II diabetes and renal failure, and was admitted to hospital on Christmas Day.

It was only after he was allowed back home earlier this year that the full extent of his losses became clear.

First Standard Management’s website was down and all the email addresses and phone numbers had stopped working. The company had simply disappeared – along with Mr Syson’s money.

His daughter, Alex, said: “Looking back, there were alarm bells at every stage. I kept overhearing these conversations and I asked him ‘is this all bona fide?’, but he’d just get angry.”

Mr Syson’s wife died last March and soon afterwards he sustained head injuries in a bad car accident. He was cold-called the next month.

His other daughter, Jenny Jarram, said: “I don’t think he was well enough to do this sort of thing, to be honest.”

According to the FSA, this sort of fraud, known as a boiler-room scam, is very common, costing UK investors around £200m every year. The average loss is around £20,000.

Jonathan Phelan, the FSA’s head of unauthorised business, said: “They sound authentic but really they just want to steal your money, and – because unauthorised businesses are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme – you have little hope of getting it back.

“Legitimate companies should not normally call you out of the blue offering to buy or sell shares, so if you get any calls like this, hang up and report them to us.”

Det Insp Ian Wills, of North Yorkshire Police’s Financial Investigation Unit, said: “Whatever you do, don’t give your details to anyone who contacts you over the phone.

“Scams in cases like this are usually offering something that seems too good to be true – if that is the case, it probably is.”

Mr Syson has now moved into a care home for ex-servicemen in Ripon, and is unlikely ever to see his money again.

But his daughters are determined to do all they can to find justice.

Alex said: “People say this kind of scam is well known, but my father didn’t know. They’ve taken advantage of a man in his twilight years.

“As long as I’m alive I will try my best to do something about this.”