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Richard Branson reveals how he nearly fell for $5 million scam

Sir Richard Branson spoke about how he was nearly scammed out of millions by an impostor posing as a high-ranking British official.
/ Source: TODAY

Sir Richard Branson is known as the savvy businessman who founded the multi-billion-dollar Virgin Group, but he admittedly nearly found himself scammed out of millions of dollars earlier this year.

Branson detailed the ordeal in a blog post and spoke about it on TODAY Tuesday, detailing how an impostor posed as a high-ranking British official tried to get him to send $5 million for a bogus kidnapping ransom.

"There are millions of people being conned every day now,'' Branson told Matt Lauer on TODAY Tuesday. "It's frightening. I think the police need to turn their attention to this much more than say, the war on drugs. They need to really, really focus on this and try to get on top of it."

Branson said that it began when he returned a message claiming to be from Sir Michael Fallon, the British Secretary of State for Defence.

The criminal posing as Fallon told him that a British diplomat had been kidnapped by terrorists, and the government needed him to contribute $5 million to the ransom because British laws prevented the government from paying it.

"Fortunately, I managed to work out that it was a con,'' he told Lauer.

Branson contacted Fallon's office in London and was told by his secretary that Fallon had made no such call and there was no kidnapping.

However, Branson soon found his own name being used to in a scam that cost an American businessman $2 million.

The businessman, whom Brandon declined to identify, told him that someone impersonating Branson called him and said he was trying to quickly get access to money to help the British Virgin Islands in the wake of the devastation from Hurricane Irma.

The person claimed that Branson, who has a home on Necker Island in the BVI, couldn't get through to his bank because of the destruction from the storm so he was making a satellite call to this businessman, who is Branson's friend. The businessman gave the impostor $2 million, which subsequently disappeared.

"It’s a heist of enormous scale, and I feel it is likely to be the same person who tried to con me earlier this year,'' Branson wrote on his blog. "I must admit I regret not publicising the earlier attempt to con me sooner, to have helped alert others to the danger, but we had to be sensitive to ongoing investigations."

Branson also spoke with Lauer about his new autobiography, "Finding My Virginity,'' and his efforts to help the Virgin Islands to recover from Hurricane Irma. Branson rode out the deadly storm on Necker Island in a wine cellar with his staff.

"A lot of the Caribbean has been completely devastated, including Necker Island,'' he said. "We all have to try to help the Caribbean stand back on its feet."

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.