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Saturday, July 17, 2004
Man tricked out of 3,000 by 419
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Man tricked out of 3,000 by 419

- Thisisgloucestershire

International fraudsters have targeted Gloucestershire residents in an elaborate internet scam. In the past week, at least five people in Bishop's Cleeve, Brockworth, the Forest of Dean and Stroud have lost thousands of pounds. All have been tricked into cashing bad cheques.

One man from Bishop's Cleeve was duped into sending 3,000 to a Nigerian gang. Police say the five victims are just the tip of the iceberg. They are warning people to be on their guard. They said the conmen, who are mainly operating in West Africa, sift through thousands of classified advertising sites on the internet.

They have targeted people selling items from televisions to cars. The fraudsters send the seller a cheque, wait for them to cash it then cancel the order. They then persuade the seller to send them the money back before their cheque bounces in the victim's account leaving them thousands of pounds out of pocket.

A 41-year-old Bishop's Cleeve man, who asked not to be named, was selling a roof for a Jeep. He said: "I advertised the soft top on a website for 250. "A man emailed me and said he was interested in buying it. "He sent me a cheque for 2,000. He said the extra money was owed to a friend in England and asked me to send it to him, which I agreed to do.

"The cheque was from an English bank but the envelope was postmarked Nigeria. I thought nothing of it." When he cashed the cheque, it bounced so he contacted the buyer, who sent him a business cheque for 3,000. He said: "The bank said I could withdraw the money. "I paid cash into the 'friend's' bank account through Western Union. "I was then told the friend would be round to pick up the roof."

Later, the conman told him his "friend" was seriously ill and would not be coming. He asked for a 200 refund saying the victim could keep 50 for his trouble. Then he had a call from the bank. He said: "They told me the cheque was a fraud. I reported it to the police but by then I'd lost 3,000. "I couldn't believe what happened. I run my own small business so losing this money has hit me hard. "It's caused me a lot of stress and unhappiness."

Det Con Trevor Moss, of the police's economic crime unit's fraud squad, has been monitoring the scam in Gloucestershire. He said it has variations but all involve conmen building up a rapport with their victims via emails. In other incidents, the fraudsters collect the goods before the cheque bounces.

Scams have been traced to West Africa, Japan and Scandinavia. Det Con Moss said people lose an average of between 1,000 to 4,000 but one person lost 8,000. Fraud squad officers fear many more incidents go unreported because people are embarrassed.

Police fear the scams could be as widespread as the advance fee fraud, which thousands of people across the UK fell for. Nigerian "nationals" asked for help to move large sums of money through victims' bank accounts with the promise of a share in the cash in return. Losses ranged from thousands to millions of pounds. Det Con Moss added: "It's a rapidly increasing problem. We're concerned about the number of people coming forward who say they've been conned or nearly conned.

"Just because the money appears to be there on a cash machine monitor it doesn't mean it's in your account. "You have to check with the bank to make sure it's there. "People will become wise to it eventually but in the meantime hundreds could be falling for it. "People should look at the quality of the cheque. Often the numbers are blurred or there are basic errors such as the spelling of the bank. "These people are making a fortune and we can't prosecute as they're out of our jurisdiction."

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