Dozens of senior executives said they were left feeling “like mugs” when they learned that the corporate hospitality packages they had paid up to £12,000 each for did not exist.
A company calling itself Elite Sports Hospitality targeted senior business figures with offers of “half-price” boxes at sell-out rugby fixtures including last week’s clash between England and Wales and likely decider England v Ireland on March 17, St Patrick’s Day.
The Oxford-based firm sent emails detailing packages for up to 20 people in a “glass-fronted private box” in the ground’s East Stand costing between £8,700 and £12,240 including VAT.
The deals promised a champagne reception, four-course lunch with “fine wines”, a complimentary bar and “post-match savoury selection”.
However, rugby fans who transferred money to the company’s HSBC account received emails at the start of February signed by a “Delroy Forgah” telling them that their “booking will no longer be going ahead” after a “mix-up”.
The email went on to ask for bank details as “a full refund will be offered on the package purchased”. But when victims tried to contact Elite Sports Hospitality, emails bounced back and phone lines were dead.
As many as 80 executives are believed to have fallen victim, handing over hundreds of thousands of pounds and possibly as much as £1 million.
One target, Patrick Goodwin, head of a City financial recruitment firm, who booked a box at the Irish game, said: “I received the first email approach in September last year. It all seemed above board, they had a slick website, they checked out on Companies House.
“I must have spoken to them six to eight times about details such as dietary requirements, parking and the itinerary — they were genuinely nice people, it was incredibly well done.
“I’ve been in business over 20 years and I’ve never been scammed before. I like to think I’m pretty streetwise. If I can get ripped off then anyone can get ripped off.”
He said when he contacted Elite Sports Hospitality’s address he was told the company had moved out without paying its bill.
Another victim Glyn Heatley, of Clerkenwell-based data services group Cervello, who also paid for a box at the Ireland game, said: ”It’s not just the financial aspect of it, I feel like a mug.
“We had to go back and tell clients it’s a scam, it was a bit embarrassing and we’ve been the butt of many jokes.”
A third, Mark Cardy of financial adviser Skerritt, said: “I thought £500 a head for a slap-up lunch at Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day was pretty good value. I was super-excited. Now I’ve had to confess I’ve been a bit of a numpty. I feel pretty gutted, annoyed, frustrated and stupid really.”
The website for Elite Sports Hospitality lists its parent company as Elite Direct Advertising and Marketing Ltd. Documents at Companies House lists that company’s sole director and shareholder as Dunstable-based businessman Jermaine Daley.
Mr Daley told the Standard he sold the company to Mr Forgah for £1 in December last year and knew nothing about the scam.
The Standard was unable to contact Mr Forgah. The scam is being investigated by Bedfordshire Police.
A spokeswoman for Bedfordshire Police said: “We have received reports that more than 80 victims have been defrauded out of hundreds of thousands of pounds in total after hospitality packages were offered to businesses for various high profile rugby events. Payment was requested by bank transfer, but the victims never received the tickets.
“We are investigating the web company which offered the packages. Our advice to stay safe online is always be suspicious if a website asks you to make a bank transfer instead of paying by card. “
Dan Hyde, a partner at law firm Pennington Manches, which is advising several of the victims said: “This type of fraud is pernicious and highly effective.
“The perfected fraudulent email can be copied and pasted or forwarded repeatedly.
“Company details and sales language give a veneer of authenticity and reassurance to the unsuspecting victim. Like many such scams it urges speed to avoid missing the cut price bargain by making early payment.
“We would ask anyone who has been a victim to get in touch urgently”