Scots teen con artist who stole £2.5m in 'catch me if you can' scam now helping to combat fraud

Elliot Castro said he was exhausted and glad to be caught
-Credit: (Image: UGC)


When international teenage fraudster Elliot Castro’s audacious life of crime came crashing down, he felt a strange sense of relief.

The young man who had nicked millions to fly first class around the world, stay in the best hotels, spend big in Beverly Hills and party with U2’s Bono had simply had enough. Prison was both a punishment and a blessing. Like Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can, Castro had passed himself off as a doctor, a naval officer and a secret service agent while stealing over £2.5million.

Today he is a different man, full of regret over the misery he caused and is now helping to stop sophisticated fraud scams and catch credit card scammers just like himself.

Castro said: “When everything did come crashing down at the end, a part of me was relieved. I would never have admitted it at the time but, in retrospect, it really was the best thing that could have happened. Everything was getting out of control and I was at a point in my life where I was meeting people I liked and I could not be honest with them about what or who I was.

“I was trying to juggle all the lies I had concocted and the identities I had created while knowing the cops were on my back and I could get caught. I was mentally exhausted. What I was doing had become like an addiction – the rush and buzz I would get when I walked out of a bank after withdrawing thousands of pounds on a stolen credit card was insane – but it took its toll. When it got towards the end, I wasn’t enjoying it any more and it was turning into something I was despising about myself.”

Now 42, Castro, from Glasgow’s south side, features in new BBC Scotland documentary Confessions of a Teenage Fraudster. Even agreeing to doing the programme has been difficult as he is aware of how people may respond.

He said: “I’m excited and nervous and hope it is well received. It’s only been in the last seven or eight years that I have been able to forgive myself. I was very young and, although that doesn’t excuse what I got up to, I need to keep living. I’ve made my apologies and served my sentence."

While other 16-year-olds were using fake IDs to get into nightclubs, Castro was defrauding innocent cardholders from his call centre desk. During a five-year crime blitz the teen, from Battlefield, blew huge amounts of cash on other people’s credit cards.

His first scam came when he picked up a credit card he had found on a train and used it to buy a ticket. He was promptly arrested when he got off the carriage. But the young offender was let off with a warning. When he left school at 16, he started work in a call centre in Glasgow and began using people’s personal details to obtain credit cards.

His photographic memory allowed him to commit his crimes by memorising dozens of names and card numbers – turning him into the Scots Frank Abagnale – the US conman played by DiCaprio in the hit movie. Like Abagnale, Castro fantasised about being a secret agent and even pretended to be a 007 to commandeer a car while escaping polce in Toronto, Canada.

By the time he was 21, he had served prison terms for fraud in Britain, Ireland and Canada. Castro, whose story was told in Neil Forsyth’s book Other People’s Money, admitted at the time he didn’t think about the people he was defrauding as they were faceless.

The half-Chilean, half-Scots swindler said: “When you’re so wrapped up in something like that, you never think of the people on the other side of it. In my head, I thought they would be getting their money back from the credit card companies. I never thought about the distress I was causing. There were times when it did hit me, like when I paid for flights for a friend’s mum with a stolen card and she ended up getting arrested at the airport. That made me feel sick. I had such a close relationship with my own mum and knowing I had done that to someone else’s mum was just awful.”

Castro’s international spending spree came to a dramatic end on November 5, 2004, when he was arrested in Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh after buying £2000 in gift vouchers on a stolen American Express card. All police ever recovered was a £12,000 Rolex watch.

The following year at Isleworth Crown Court in Middlesex, Castro admitted fraud offences amounting to £73,447. He also asked for 431 similar offences to be taken into account. Castro, who was sentenced to two years, said: “I do regret elements of what I did but I would be lying if I said I regretted everything as I had some amazing experiences. Yes, they were ill gotten but they beyond anything I could have dreamed of.

“I do feel remorseful though. How long does that person need to be punished? I know there are people out there who will say I deserve whatever I get but I know me and I know I have turned my life around and am much happier now than I was back then.”

The former DJ now runs his own consultancy firm and advises banks and companies on fraud prevention strategies. He said: “I help close loopholes, after all, the best person to ask is someone who got through them. It has taken a while to build up my reputation and I am grateful to now be trusted within the industry.”

But 20 years on from his global shenanigans, is he tempted to revert to his old ways? He said: “The last prison experience was really the end of it because it was a longer sentence. I saw men coming in and out and I was determined that wasn’t going to be me.

“I am so much happier now that I am earning an honest living and I look after my money a lot better than I did when I was splashing other people’s. Don’t get me wrong, I still like lovely things but now I have to save up for them and they take longer to get.”

Castro admitted he is anxious about what people will make of the documentary, airing on Tuesday, on BBC Scotland at 10pm.

He said: “I like to think that after 20 years folk might be able to say, ‘Well, it was a long time ago’. I am looking forward to the future. My mum died a few years ago. She was not proud that her son had been a criminal but she was proud I came out the other side and managed to turn my life around. I want to continue to make her proud.”

Confessions of A Teenage Fraudster is on BBC Scotland, 10 pm, Tuesday 4 June, and BBC Three, 9 pm, Wednesday 5 June. All episodes on iPlayer from Tuesday 4 June.

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