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Police warn of money swindle letter scam.

Byline: John Revill

Detectives have issued a fresh warning to Midland businesses to beware of a new spate of African-based fraud letters.

The documents, which claim the recipients stand to make millions of pounds if they help with business transactions, have tripled in number over the last three months.

West African-based conmen believed to be behind the scam have also switched their operations to South Africa in an attempt to swindle more people and are increasingly turning to the Internet to send their messages.

And in a new development, one letter claims to come from a US special forces commando offering a share of Osama bin Laden's money for anyone who will send money to help get it out of Afghanistan.

Now officers from the Major Fraud Unit at West Midlands Police have warned people to be especially vigilant of a new wave of letters amid fears they could be linked to other frauds, human trafficking and drugs.

Last year the force received 378 complaints but expects to easily exceed that number this year.

Each letter promises millions of pounds to the receiver for helping get money out of an African country by providing banking details. But the details are completely bogus and are instead a trap to lure people into giving information which can be used for further frauds.

Detective Chief Inspector Dave Churchill, of the MFU, said: 'We have known about these West African fraud letters for a long while, but now they are increasing in numbers, sophistication, and are also starting to be sent from South Africa as well.

'In the past it was mainly West Africa, but now the criminals behind this scam are switching their operations to South Africa in an effort to deceive people.

'There has also been a big increase in the number of letters which are being sent out by e-mail. Each of them refer to large sums of money which is being held in suspense accounts which are either unknown to the government of that country or contrary to the laws of that country.

'They ask someone for their bank account details to get the money out of their country in return for a share. But the money does not exist and anyone who hands over any information runs the risk of being involved in a a number of serious frauds.'

Once they have obtained banking details, the conmen can set up new accounts to obtain loans, clear stolen cheques or apply for credit cards.

They can also make money by 'cross firing' bogus cheques into the accounts, and withdrawing the funds before the cheques have cleared.

Det Chief Insp Churchill said: 'Sometimes the fraudsters string people along and ask for help with administration fees, or money to ease the transfer.

'They keep asking for money, and use delaying tactics to get as money as they can. Once a victim has paid in some cash, it becomes harder and harder for them to pull out.' The scam victims have included a Birmingham businessman who lost pounds 250,000 in this way last year.

Det Chief Insp Churchill said businesses, individuals and even local authorities in the Midlands had been targeted by the fraudsters in recent months.

He said: 'Our advice to anyone receiving any communications like this is to contact us, so we can collate the information, or throw it in the bin.'
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 10, 2002
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