Richard Branson, billionaire founder of the Virgin group, has revealed he was targeted by a fraudster posing as Britain’s defense minister who tried to get him to contribute $5 million to a supposed secret ransom payment.
Appealing for information to help identify the conman, Branson said he suspected the same person had later impersonated him to steal $2 million from a friend of his by pretending to raise funds for people affected by Hurricane Irma.
“This story sounds like it has come straight out of a John le Carre book or a James Bond film, but it is sadly all true,” Branson wrote in a blog.
Instantly recognizable with his wavy blond hair and beard, Branson is one of Britain’s best-known businessmen. The Virgin brand is licensed for use by a range of businesses from airlines to train companies to telecoms and gyms.
Branson wrote that six months ago, after an elaborate set-up involving a note on fake government notepaper, he spoke on the phone to someone purporting to be Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.
The man told Branson that a British diplomat had been kidnapped and was being held for ransom by terrorists.
He said that while the government did not pay ransoms, there was a particularly sensitive reason why the diplomat had to be saved, and the government was confidentially asking a syndicate of British business people to step in.
“I was asked to contribute $5 million of the ransom money, which he assured me the British government would find a way of paying back,” Branson wrote.
Feeling suspicious, Branson checked with the government and was told that Fallon had not spoken to him. The matter was reported to the police.
Six months on, Branson learnt that a friend, whom he described as a very successful businessman in the United States, had been called by a conman posing as him.
“When the call happened, the conman did an extremely accurate impression of me and spun a big lie about urgently needing a loan while I was trying to mobilize aid in the BVI (British Virgin Islands),” he wrote.
Branson owns a small island in the BVI archipelago which, as was well publicized, was devastated by Hurricane Irma. The caller took advantage of that context.
“They claimed I couldn’t get hold of my bank in the UK because I didn’t have any communications going to Europe and I’d only just managed to make a satellite call to the businessman in America,” Branson wrote.
“The business person, incredibly graciously, gave $2 million, which promptly disappeared.”
A spokesman for Fallon said he was aware of two attempts, one not involving Branson, to impersonate the minister for illicit gain, and Fallon’s office were assisting the police in their efforts to try to catch those responsible.
A proclamation of sexual attraction. A hand resting on the knee. A flirty text message.
From the right person at the right time, they can make you feel great.
But from the wrong person or at the wrong time, an innuendo-laden text becomes creepy and an unwanted touch can make you feel uncomfortable and ashamed.
As the number of women making claims against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein grows by the day, women around the world have spoken on social media about their experiences of sexual harassment under the #metoo Twitter hashtag.
Weinstein wielded great power, able to make or break his alleged victims’ careers, but harassment can be just as damaging away from work.
In a global debate, the question of how we define sexual harassment is not altogether clear.
And that line between flirtation and harassment is a very fine – and often blurred – one.
So how do you ensure you stay on the right side of it?
If you want to meet someone, you have to flirt, says relationship expert James Preece.
But it’s about doing it in the right environment, not when people are least expecting it, he says.
The problem is men can’t always read the signals and assume all women are interested in them, while women can be huggy and tactile, and they’ll say they’re just being friendly, he says.
He advises his clients – men and women aged from 23 to 72 – to play it safe by flirting in a playful – not a sexual – way.
“Treat them like your mother at the first meeting,” he says. “Be friendly and build up a rapport and trust.”
At the end of the first date, he suggests a friendly hug or peck on the cheek.
If you get a second date, try touching them on a non-sexual body part – such as below the elbow or towards the small of the back, he says.
If they don’t flinch, you can go in for the kiss.
When does flirting become sexual harassment?
When it’s unwanted and persistent, says Sarah King, of Stuart Miller Solicitors.
Dating expert James believes it’s when a man pushes things too far – whether through what he says or what he does – when a woman clearly doesn’t want it.
Sea Ming Pak, who goes into London schools to teach young people about sex and relationships, reels off a long list of what she thinks constitutes sexual harassment: non-consensual touching; feeling entitled to someone else; talking in a certain way; chasing girls down the street in order to chat them up; wolf-whistling and using a position of power or trust to talk in a creepy way.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines sexual harassment as “unwanted sexual advances, obscene remarks, etc”.
And the Equality Act 2010 says it’s an “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature” which violates a person’s dignity or “creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment”.
Is sexual harassment illegal?
Not specifically. It is not a criminal offence in its own right, says Sarah King.
However, the types of behaviour that amount to sexual harassment can be criminalised under different pieces of legislation. For example:
Unwanted phone calls and messages, visits to home or work, taking personal photographs, unwanted advances and persistent and distressing comments – Protection from Harassment Act 1997
Unwanted touching by someone who is getting sexual gratification, for example on public transport – Sexual Offences Act
That said, anyone being sexually harassed in the workplace is protected by the Equality Act 2010. A case is considered a civil – not a criminal – matter and would be dealt with in an employment tribunal.
More than half of women say they have been sexually harassed at work, according to research carried out last year by the TUC.
Why is sexual harassment happening?
Sea Ming Pak, who works for sexual health charity Brook, blames Western society’s sex-sells culture which, she says, breeds entitlement and a blame culture.
Young people have been conditioned through films, music videos, TV programmes, access to porn and the normalisation of sending sexual images on phones, she says.
In school assemblies and classrooms, she tells them when it comes to sex you have to have freedom and the capacity to make the choice.
But she admits she worries about how poorly informed our schoolchildren are – with many blaming the victim when a rape scenario is presented.
In some cases, it is a learned behaviour, picked up from those closest to them.
She describes spotting a girl from one of her classes at a bus stop with a boy draping his arm around her and being “handsy”.
“She did not look like she wanted the attention so the next week I told her: ‘You have the right to say no, it was not OK for him to touch you.’
“I explained consent, and she replied: ‘But they always grab me.'”
Sea, who typically speaks to boys and girls aged between 14 and 17, thinks that until children are told they can say “no” at an earlier age, the problem will not go away.
We should speak to them in primary schools, says Sea.
That’s when it starts, she says, recalling her own schooldays when boys thought it was funny to rip open girls’ shirts, put their hands up their skirts, grab their bums and ping their bras.
“It was about shame and humiliation,” she says.
At that age, you talk about boundaries, she explains, and at secondary school they need to know about consent, how to read body language, negotiate situations and to think before sending sexual images of themselves.
Is the law likely to change?
Grassroots pressure is mounting.
A petition calling for the Crown Prosecution Service to make misogynistic incidents a hate crime has been signed by more than 65,000 people.
In Nottinghamshire, police began recording misogynistic incidents as hate crimes; until then there was no category for such cases.
The force defines those as: “Incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman and includes behaviour targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman.”
It allows police to investigate the incidents as crimes and support the victims, as well as get a better picture of the scale of the problem.
Sarah King says there is a gap in the legislation.
She points to the Crime and Disorder Act which includes an offence of harassment motivated by the complainant’s religion or race, but not when it’s sexual.
A specific criminal offence for sexual harassment would define the behaviour and create clear boundaries once and for all, she says.
The highly anticipated “Who wants to be an Entrepreneur” event held on Saturday 14th October at the prestigious Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge, London and has since been the talk of town.
The seminar was attended by around 100 guests made up of both budding and established Entrepreneurs.
Organised by serial entrepreneur Dr Richard Obahor, the event attracted an impressive line up of high profile speakers, including:
Emma Jones MBE of Enterprise Nation appointed by UK PM as a Business Ambassador. Emma is also a regular feature on the Clive Bull LBC radio show, where she answers questions on entrepreneurship.
American serial entrepreneur Paul Oberschneider, who gave the keynote speech. Oberschneider is the American tycoon who built a $200 million dollar fortune from hotels and other interests. Paul boasts of a wealth of unique insights which he happily shared with the insatiable audience.
Udo Maryanne Okonjo, CEO of Fine & Country West Africa lit up the room and turned up the heat by challenging the audience who could not get enough to dream big, think Big and never ever give up.
Also speaking at the event were:
Marian Mola who has an incredible story about her life struggles and overcoming them. Sheun David Onamusi, the brains behind Still Dapper, Solemate and the first TM Lewin franchisee in Abuja.
Wale Oladunjoye a successful speaker on leadership and lifestyle.
Ire Hassan-Odukale, the 31 year old behind the Ikoyi Restaurant in the heart of London.
Keye Oduneye of the bespoke suit brand Keye of London.
The host Dr Obahor is a successful entrepreneur and property developer with interests both in the UK and in Nigeria. He shared his vision of creating the “Who Wants To be An Entrepreneur” platform as a ladder to hold up for others especially millennials to climb up.
Richard said Popular opinion is that people strive to get to the top, and upon arrival they remove the ladder thus denying access to those coming up behind them. They do this because they would rather enjoy the adulation of being the only successful individual in their clan, and we start to hear things like he/she is the only ‘black person’ to have ever achieved a certain status.
“We, however”, Richard added, “seek to change this narrative, and this has been the core objective in putting together the “Who wants to be an Entrepreneur” event. Rather than remove the ladder we seek to strengthen it so that as many people who want to, can gain access with as much support as possible”.
Richard gave a hint that the “Who wants to be an Entrepreneur” event would hold again in 2018.