Trust No One

A conman who posed as an MI6 agent has been extradited to the UK from Switzerland. Mark Acklom, 46, defrauded a Gloucestershire woman out of her life savings of £850,000. He fled the country in 2012 while he was under investigation. He was arrested in Zurich in June 2018 and extradition proceedings have been underway since then. Acklom will stand trial later this year.

“Intelligence officer” occasionally crops up as a front used by conmen. Since spies don’t carry identification cards, the fraud can sometimes be difficult to spot. But it is more commonly used by employees of private intelligence agencies who often claim that they are from the security services. This deception is made easier by the fact that the agencies employ former intelligence officers who know how to sound like the real thing. A classic example dates from 2007: A former MI5 officer named Nick Day allegedly led KPMG employee Guy Enright to believe that he was a British intelligence officer. The story is that Day persuaded Enright to drop classified documents at secret locations for Day to collect. But Day wasn’t working for the British government. In fact he was working for the private intelligence company Diligence. KPMG later sued Diligence over this “recruitment” and the damage that the loss of the documents had caused. The case was settled privately and Diligence made no admissions concerning the case, but it is believed that the settlement cost them more than a million dollars. There are numerous other examples of similar stings by former intelligence officers if one cares to look.

Probably the most startling example of the “intelligence officer con” was in 2005. Robert Hendy-Freeguard, 34, was jailed for life for a long series of frauds where he impersonated an MI5 officer. At first sight the sentence might seem extreme, but Freeguard had been committing the offences over a ten year period against a number of targets that he robbed blind and humiliated to a startling degree. He convinced his victims that they were part of an MI5 operation. Some were forced to live on starvation diets. Others handed over their life’s savings – in just one case this amounted to more than £300,000.

And don’t feel too smug: many of Freeguard’s targets were intelligent people from professional backgrounds including a solicitor, a psychologist and a company director. The case illustrates how difficult it can be to spot such a fraud, especially if the target is vulnerable. It is, arguably, one of the downsides of the UK’s policy of excessive secrecy concerning the activities of the intelligence services when compared with other countries such as the United States.

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