Friends Life and Virgin Money 'duped into pension scam'

Friends Life and Virgin Money 'duped into pension scam'

A businessman who promised cash-strapped pension holders he could release their savings early blew £1m of their cash on gambling, holidays and supercars, a court heard.

Anthony Locke, 32, set up a website called Successful Pensions to attract people looking to liberate their pension funds, jurors were told.

With the help of Ray King, 54, he is said to have offered applicants an upfront payment equivalent to half of their pot, with the remainder invested in another of their sham eco-friendly firms.

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The Dorset pair allegedly created an ‘elaborate façade’ comprising of hundreds of documents to convince genuine companies, including Friends Life and Virgin Money, that they were operating an occupational pension scheme.

Applicants themselves are then said to have been persuaded to lie to their original companies that they were employees of Locke’s bogus firm to give the impression the funds were not simply being cashed in, which would have carried heavy tax implications.

Rather than invest the balance, the remaining funds were filtered through offshore accounts along with others held by Locke’s mother and ex-partner, it is claimed.

The money was then spent on supercars, including an Aston Martin Vantage, Porsche 911 and Mercedes B180, along with gambling binges and luxury holidays, jurors heard.

When police began investigating Mr Locke, they discovered he had his own YouTube channel, ‘Gas Kings’, devoted to his interest in high performance cars.

Gas Kings currently boasts 645,000 subscribers, 180,000 Instagram followers and more than 53,000 Facebook likes.

Southwark Crown Court heard a total of 16 applicants were conned out of £999,266.

They included people unable to work through injury, a failing business owner, an ex-wife made homeless following her divorce and parents looking to renovate their home.

Jurors heard the ‘pension liberation fraud’ preyed on people in desperate financial situations by offering them the chance to cash in their pensions, often their only savings.

Rather than promising to release the entire fund, they were told they could receive an initial sum equivalent to part of their pension fund with the remainder transferred to what was described as an occupational pension scheme.

The alleged fraudsters also told them the money would be invested on their behalf via that scheme.

Prosecutor Stephen Hopper said Mr King’s role centred on answering calls and ‘selling’ the scheme over the phone once somebody had registered online.

Mr Locke usually operated with a false name and was said to have been the ‘architect’ of the scam, heading up the various sham businesses involved.

To persuade legitimate pension companies to release their clients’ funds, jurors heard the pair concocted an ‘elaborate façade’ in the form of documents relating to their apparent pension company, including rules, employment contracts and payslips.

This was said to have been presented as evidence that they were operating an occupational pension scheme.

Applicants were invited to transfer their existing pension fund to this occupational scheme.