'Faith healer' fraudster jailed


%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%A fraudster who posed as a faith healer to con vulnerable victims out of almost £1 million has been jailed for 10 years.

Juliette D'Souza masqueraded as a shaman for more than 12 years to convince 11 of her "clients" to hand over thousands of pounds to solve issues such as curing terminal illnesses or problems conceiving a baby.
The 59-year-old, from Hampstead, north London, told her victims the money was a "sacrifice" which would be used as a spiritual offering and hung off a sacred tree in the Amazonian rainforest.

There two other shamans would perform rituals around the money before it was sent back and their problems would be resolved, she claimed.

But in fact she used the proceeds to fund an extravagant lifestyle including designer handbags, luxury holidays and antique furniture.

Yesterday D'Souza was convicted of 23 counts of obtaining property by deception and fraud relating to victims she targeted between January 1998 and June 2010.

Jailing her today, Judge Ian Karsten QC said she had cast a "spell" over her victims and persuaded them to hand over the money or they would face "terrifying" consequences.

He told Blackfriars Crown Court in London: "It is the worst case of confidence fraud I have ever had to deal with or indeed that I have ever heard of.

"The most serious aspect of this case is that you wrecked the lives of a number of your victims and you have done it out of pure greed."

He said an aggravating feature was that she spent the money on "high living" in the UK and abroad, buying luxury items such as a £3,000 Hermes handbag.

The court heard D'Souza convinced victims to make financial sacrifices in order to save the lives of loved ones, avoid being made redundant or have illnesses cured, ranging from terminal cancer to less serious ailments.

Many were left in financial ruin with one man "as poor as a church mouse" while the conwoman "remorselessly extracted" more than £200,000 from an elderly woman over several years, the court heard.

The total amount she defrauded in relation to the charges on the indictment was £908,400, but on the evidence given by victims the final sum was closer to £1 million.

A jury took just an hour to convict D'Souza, who had previous convictions for dishonesty and deception, after a four-week trial.

D'Souza, who once advertised her services in Tatler magazine, charged just £35 for a consultation but then demanded large sums for the "sacrifices" she claimed were being sent to Suriname in South America.

Before handing down the sentence, the judge told her: "You were telling people that you were a shaman, that is to say a spiritual healer in touch with the spiritual world.

"You told your victims that you had contacts with other shamans... and persuaded them that these were powerful figures who could exercise their power to solve the problems which they were concerned about."

The issues people took to her ranged from serious illnesses to work problems and their love life, he said.

The judge went on: "In each case you promised them that you would be able to resolve the problems by using your powers of communication with two shamans in Suriname, provided they paid a sacrifice."

D'Souza would give her "customers" detailed instructions about how the money was to be paid - always in cash and in a brown envelope.

Part of her "system" was to demand a full-length photograph from each victim.

She told them the money would be taken by plane to Suriname where it would be placed under or on a "special, sacred tree".

The judge said: "Other rituals would be entered into, the result of which would be that their problems would be solved as a result of the exercises of this Shamanic power.

"Once that happened, you told a number of victims, the money would be returned.

"The reality, as it has emerged, is that you didn't send any of this money to South America. You used the cash for your own purposes.

"You cheated each and every one of these victims. You were able to exercise a considerable influence and indeed a spell over these victims."

Those targeted by D'Souza did exactly what she required of them as, in many cases, they were "terrified" of the consequences of disobeying her instructions, Judge Karsten said.

A number of victims were "subjugated" to her will so that they "lost all of their autonomy" and became "entirely dependent" on her, he said.

"To reinforce their dependence on you, you initially saw to it that they were cut off from their friends and family. You warned them about the 'evil temperament' of the people to whom they were close."

The self-proclaimed healer also claimed to have helped cure actor John Cleese's daughter of cancer, boasted that she had known Princess Diana and said she could introduce a young singer to Simon Cowell.

The biggest scams of 2013
See Gallery
'Faith healer' fraudster jailed
First Direct found that the most common type of fraud was the 'fake email', which makes up 53% of all scams. This is also known as phishing, and involves the fraudsters contacting you, requesting personal information like passwords and PINs.

They use all kinds of methods to persuade you to reveal your details: from pretending to be your bank, to pretending to be the taxman. Earlier this year HMRC warned people to watch out for scam emails promising tax credit refunds in return for account details - timed to coincide with a major advertising campaign to remind people to renew their tax credits.
This is an old and established scam, but is the second most prevalent in the UK this year. It involves someone getting in contact with a sob story, and asking for a sum of money in return for paying you a larger sum. If you pay up you may get requests for more cash but you will never receive a payout.

This year the horrible twist on the scam was that the gangs pretended to be a victim of the war in Syria, in desperate need of money and able to pay you from money he has hidden overseas, once you give him enough money to escape the country.
This is a new take on phishing, which Financial Fraud Action warned about in August. They said victims receive a cold call asking for personal or financial information. Some 39% of all people targeted by these calls said they found it difficult to tell if the person was genuinely from their bank or whether it was a scam. First Direct says this is the third most prevalent type of scam.
Duplicating your bank cards made up 14% of fraud this year. Old-fashioned card scams are actually on the rise this year. The experts say that the introduction of chip and PIN means 'crude scams' are back in vogue, where criminals distract people in shops and bars, or shoulder surf at cash machines and then steal customers' cards without them noticing.
These also make up 14% of all scams. You receive an email telling you that you have won a lottery. All you have to do is get in touch with the 'claims agent' who you'll need to pay a 'processing fee' or a 'transfer charge' to. These 'agents' are all criminals, who will just take your money and run.
We warned in November of a boom in phoney research calls. Boiler room operatives will call pretending to be university researchers looking into investor confidence. In fact, they are just trying to find out how best to exploit you: asking how much cash you have, your attitude to risk, and determining whether an appeal to greed would work.
Back in May we warned that you could receive a telephone call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from Microsoft. The scammers were using a variety of techniques to extract money from their victims. These included infecting computers with malware and charging to remove it, charging people a fortune for help they didn't want or need, or even just asking for their credit card details.

This is not a new type of scam. For years now different types of Trojan viruses have been embedded in various web pages and links. If you click on the page or link you're taken to malicious websites, which install a virus. The virus then quietly sits on your computer, stealing passwords and account details until it has enough details to empty your bank accounts.

This scam took two very popular forms this year. The first was a link sent in an email pretending to be from Facebook, and inviting you to click the link. When you did, it would install the virus and then send the link to your Facebook friends.

The other form was a page with a fake YouTube video in the background, which claimed to show Rita Ora's famous wardrobe malfunction. However, the site prompts you to enter your Facebook details, so you can see the video and 'personalise your experience'. The criminals then have access to your Facebook account.

As the jobs market continues to be tight, the job offer scam is still a real risk. Financial Fraud Action issued a warning about fake online job offers, that could turn innocent job hunters into unwitting money launderers.

The jobs offered are called things like "payment processing agents" or "administration assistants". They involve the payment of the proceeds of crimes into your bank account. You then pay the cash into an overseas account, effectively hiding the money and laundering it for criminals. In return you receive a share of the money. This is a criminal act.
These reached a peak this year after One Direction collected their Brit award (pictured) and announced a World Tour - and demand for the tickets exploded. The scammers set up fake sites offering tickets to sold-out gigs. Desperate fans trawling the net would stumble across them and take a risk. They handed over hundreds of pounds, the criminals took the money, shut the website, and ran.

Read Full Story