It came to light when a farmer's family near Exeter contacted police
Fraudsters who conned vulnerable farmers out of their life savings have been jailed at Exeter Crown Court.
The men, all from Ireland, targeted those in rural communities - including in Devon - and led them into falsely believing they'd become caught up in criminal activity.
It came to light when the family of a farmer from near Exeter contacted police, fearing they'd been blackmailed.
Fraudsters who swindled vulnerable farmers out of their life savings in long-running cons - leaving them suffering in silence - have been jailed.
Dennis McGinley, aged 57, and John Maughan, aged 56, admitted two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud, whilst Luke Connors, aged 39, pleaded guilty to four charges of conspiracy to commit fraud.
They were brought to justice following a investigation by Devon and Cornwall Police as part of Operation Mudskipper.
Their crimes occurred near Exeter in Devon, Launceston in Cornwall, and Preston in Lancashire.
McGinley, of Sligo Road, Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, was jailed for five years and seven months.
Maughan, of Killyvilly, Enniskillen, was sentenced to five years and three months in prison.
Connors, of Marconi Park, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, Ireland, was jailed for three years.
Detective Constable Ailsa Mason said: “The group acted in an organised and calculated manner to strip the victims of their savings. They struggled in secret for a number of years.
“The offenders identified vulnerable victims through door-to-door tool sales.
“From there, they set in play calculated, effective and long-running deceptions of the victims, causing them to hand over large amounts of cash.
“The victims lost hundreds of thousands of pounds each.
“Following initial entrapment through tool sales, the victims found themselves entwined in fictitious situations where they believed their savings had become caught up in criminal activity.
“They were led to believe their cash was being used to import illegal cigarettes, drugs and to bribe HMRC officials - none of which was true.
“They were left feeling they could not report the situation without facing prosecution themselves and that they needed to hand over more and more funds if they wanted to see any of their ‘investments’ returned.
“As time progressed, so did the amounts they were made to hand over.
“In each case, the victim has been left with no life savings and, on occasions, have had to borrow money from friends and family.”