An 86-year-old Kensington man has been duped into handing over £48,000 to a phoney prize draw, as a sophisticated Canada-based fraud targets elderly Londoners.
At least 22 pensioners have been stung for a total of £350,000 across the country by telephone scammers, soliciting cash in return for releasing part of a £500,000 cash "prize", the Office of Fair Trade (OFT) said.
In several cases victims have emptied their savings accounts and borrowed money to cover further costs, as they fell deeper into the ruse.
The victims, including a 70-year-old Westminster resident, have also been conned into acting as "money mules" - unknowingly laundering the ill-gotten cash on behalf of the fraudsters.
The conmen deliberately posted cheques written from each of the victims to other victims' addresses and assured them they would soon receive their prize, as long as they cashed the cheques into the ghost company's accounts.
Mike Haley, OFT director of consumer protection, said: "Prize-draw scammers are becoming ever more sophisticated and devious in their attempts to con victims out of their life savings. It's despicable that they're exploiting innocent victims."
Westminster Council's trading standards team is working alongside British and Canadian police to bust the criminal ring. Sue Jones, who leads the trading standards unit, said: "This is the first time we've seen people used as money mules through scams in the UK, they are more common in America and Canada." It is believed the scam started in early 2007.
Anyone who is contacted about an alleged prize draw or lottery win and suspects it may be a scam, should contact Consumer Direct for advice on 08454 040 506 or see www.consumerdirect.gov.uk