A scammer is using the Middlesbrough mayor’s identity to fleece women out of hundreds of pounds in North Africa.
Nabila, 40, who lives in Algeria, has spoken out after she was the victim of a scam that saw her lose €500 after being promised thousands of pounds worth of gifts. The mother of three was sent a Facebook request from a fake account impersonating Andy Preston.
It appears the scammer has set up at least two false Facebook pages and a WhatsApp account. Mr Preston said he is appalled that people are using his name to rip off unsuspecting individuals and will be reporting the fake accounts.
Nabila said: “At first, I thought it was a fake account but when I searched on the net and I found he’s really the mayor of Middlesbrough. I asked him to introduce himself and then he started asking me about my country and myself.”
In the first Facebook message sent from the fake Andy Preston account, the person said they lived in Middlesbrough, they were philanthropic, and were CEO of a charity organisation, but they had a major slip-up by stating they were the Nottingham mayor.
The accounts also list the mayor as being divorced but he is married. At least one of the accounts appears to be copying and pasting content from Mr Preston’s official Tees Issues page as a recent post about Marton community centre appears on one of the locked profiles.
Speaking about how she was drawn into the scam, Nabila said: “He told me that he found my account good, he sees me as a special person and he is interested in getting to know me and Islam. After several conversations, he told me he would send me a gift. At first, I didn’t believe him because I don’t know him. Our relationship was not strong or long.”
The gifts Nabila had been promised were two iPhone 14 Pro Max, two pairs of designer shoes, two designer handbags, two sets of gold necklaces, one diamond ring, two watches, two perfumes, four pairs of shoes for her two sons and two pairs of shoes for her daughter.
The scammer then sent a ‘receipt’, dated December 29 2022, for the parcel to Nabila and told her she had to pay €500 to receive the package. She paid this money but then was asked for a further €1,000 so the agent, who the scammer claims was responsible for getting the parcel into the country, would not open the bag.
In WhatsApp messages to Nabila, the con artist said: “My queen please don’t allow them to open the luggage because there is money in the luggage which I want you to use for the expenses, just follow the instruction of the agent and go send them the money they ask for so that you can receive the luggage.”
When Nabila threatened to make a complaint, the scammer, pretending to be Mr Preston, said he feared for his reputation because he had enemies in his work and when he visited Algeria he would give her the money back. The con artist claimed they were legally forbidden from sending money abroad because of their mayoral position.
When she refused to pay up, Nabila was blocked from the social media accounts and all communication was cut off. She said: “I was so stupid because I believed him. I wanted to share what happened so no other woman would fall into the trap.
“I am worried because they have a lot of women friends on Facebook – a lot are Arab women from Algeria and Morrocco. These accounts are made just for Arab women because they think we’re rich like Saudi Arabia but it’s just not true.”
It is understood that other women have also been the victim of the same scam but did not want to speak out.
Mr Preston said: “Sadly, scamming is a really common global problem on social media and I suspect hundreds of people’s profiles are being abused in this way, so I’d advise people to be very cautious online at all times.
“I’m shocked and appalled to learn that scammers are abusing my name and image to rip off unsuspecting individuals. For the record, I have only two Facebook pages – Tees Issues by Andy Preston, which I use for my mayoral activity, and a personal Andy Preston profile.
“I’d advise anyone to be cautious about any other Facebook profiles using my image. I will naturally be reporting this issue to Facebook who I hope will ensure the false accounts are removed.”
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