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the judge special report; pounds 3M sun burn.

Byline: Graeme Lennox

THOUSANDS of unsuspecting victims are falling prey to a worldwide web of crime which is netting millions of pounds for crooks. Criminal gangs have come up with a new hi-tech crimewave from e-mails to phones and faxes. Today I expose the top five scams...

SCAM ALERT 1

MORE than 1200 holidaymakers have been stung for pounds 3million in a shocking internet con.

The crooks set up a professional looking website - www. intersun.co.uk - to lure their innocent victims.

It offered thousands of pounds off luxury breaks to Spain, Cyprus, Africa and Australia.

Unsuspecting couples were invited to sales presentations with the offer of a free holiday. Once there, they bought a "key" or password which gave access to websites offering huge savings on holiday accommodation.

The asking price was brought down from pounds 6000 to pounds 2000 if they signed up for a fixed term of 25 years. But there were no cancellation rights if the holiday dates didn't suit and, of course, the holidays never materialised.

The company was eventually wound up at the High Court along with five other firms - Travelmasters Ltd, Callmasters UK Ltd, CCH International Ltd, Leisuremasters Ltd and Mediterranean Marketing Ltd - following a DTI investigation.

One victim paid pounds 1800 to join Travelmasters Ltd, which offered 10 years of cut-price stays in five-star accommodation worldwide.

She tried to book holidays but each time was told nothing was available. When she asked for her money back there was no reply.

DTI investigators eventually traced the cash to bank accounts of CCH International Limited in Gibraltar and Spain.

Around pounds 400,000 was sent to Gibraltar, while nearly pounds 250,000 was paid to Paul Charleston, a director of some of the companies, who was resident in Majorca.

Steven Philippsohn, a leading anti-fraud lawyer and adviser to the Home Office, is calling for a crackdown on net criminals. He said: "There are so many websites that look impressive, persuasive and credible. Before you know where you are, you are drawn in.

"Not only can you lose money this way, but fraudsters can also steal credit card and passport details and post them on the internet for other fraudsters to use.

"We know these credit card frauds can be used to fund terror groups or organised crime."

Keeping rogue firms out of business is almost impossible. Invariably, they will close and re-emerge under a different name.

A favourite trick is to buy the web address of a firm that goes out of business. Another is to set up "copycat" websites with names similar to reputable firms.

Mr Philippsohn says: "The banks are paying out pounds 500million a year in credit card fraud.

"But they don't want adverse publicity so they keep quiet."

You can reduce your chances of being a victim with common sense. As I alwlays say, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Never provide financial or other personal information before establishing that the company is legit. Even then, don't give credit card details to an unsecured site.

Use a credit card rather than debit card. Under the Consumer Credit Act, you can claim your money back from the card issuer.

Think twice before giving out sensitive information via e-mail.

Philippsohn says: "Don't judge a website on its appearance. Check it out - they should have a telephone number. If they haven't, there's a problem."

You have been warned.

Bank gang's easy home win

SCAM ALERT 2

YOU might think anyone who gives bank details to a stranger deserves all they get but spoof e-mails are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

Last year, crooks used the domain name barclaysprivate.com to give their scam authenticity. But Barclays have nothing to do with the site and are working with police to trace the gang who scammed thousands from unwitting victims who willingly handed over card details.

The reality is that internet users need to take care of their own identity and be aware others may not be who they say they are.

Internet auction website eBay was targeted when credit card fraudsters e-mailed its 55 million customers, asking them to submit their bank details to a fake "eBay" website.

A spokeswoman for the National Crime Squad's Hi-tech Crimes Unit says: "Always be suspicious. If someone e- mails saying they've lost your details, how did they contact you?

"I get a huge amount of spam mail every day. Even if they personalise it or make it look like it's been forwarded, I just delete it."

Contact www.cardwatch.org.uk if you have cause for alarm.

SCAM ALERT 3

IF you have a mobile phone, you're a top target for the scam merchants. They text unsuspecting innocents saying they've won a major prize.

To claim, you call a premium rate 0906 number... at pounds 1.50 for up to 10 minutes. Obviously, it's the last you'll hear about it.

If you have a complaint about such a scam, call ICSTIS (Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services). A spokesman said: "We can fine them or shut them down."

Contact Telephone Preference Service on 020 7291 3320 to stop unsolicited calls. Find out how to stop texts from a specific company on www.its-your- choice.org.uk

SCAM ALERT 4

INTERNET stings are now so large they are the third biggest industry in Nigeria.

But African conmen are still using snail mail, too, and last week a Sunday Mail reader got an official-looking letter telling him he could scoop a quarter share of pounds 10million.

It came from Benjamin Zuma Balfour, claiming to be from the South African Department of Minerals and Energy, who said his "department" had been accidentally overpaid.

And he needed help to get the money out of the country. As is so often the case, there was no fortune.

"West African" or "419" frauds - named after the criminal code which makes it illegal - occur where the sender claims to have access to millions but can't get it out of the country and asks for cash to unfreeze it.

Usually targets receive another letter asking for money for a bribe.

Such cons have cost victims pounds 150million in three years. Last month, Strathclyde Police arrested four Nigerians who were charged with trying to swindle a Dutch businessman out of pounds 15,000 at Glasgow's Hilton Hotel.

The National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) says you can help crack down on the scams by sending "419" e- mails on to your internet service provider.

If you've been a victim, contact NCIS at The West African Organised Crime Section, PO Box 8000, London, SE11 5EN, or visit www.ncis.gov.uk

SCAM ALERT 5

YOUR credit card can fall into crooked hands if you're not careful who you e-mail with information such as your mother's maiden name.

Thieves can buy credit card numbers on the internet with alarming ease, along with personal details stolen from confidential databases.

Using unsecure websites to buy goods means your details can be intercepted by computer hackers who can run up huge bills on your card.

In 2001, 53,000 cases were reported, with the total cost estimated at pounds 1.2billion. Glasgow is fourth and Edinburgh seventh in the UK's top ten card fraud hotspots.

VERDICTS

Is my cop car whiplash only worth pounds 2000?

A POLICE van ran into my car, writing it off and leaving me with whiplash and other injuries. I was offered pounds 2000 compensation but my lawyer wants to go to court. I've spoken to another solicitor who thinks the amount is OK. What should I do?

I CAN'T say how much you should get without seeing the evidence but going to court is a gamble. The police solicitors may lodge a "tender" of the pounds 2000 offered to you. It means if you get pounds 2000 or less, you'd be liable for court expenses. If you get more, the police would be liable for costs. Discuss it with your lawyer or you could end up with nothing.

Must mum pay for college kids?

MY SON and daughter are at university and costing me a fortune. Can I force my divorced wife to contribute to their expenses?

UNDER the Family Law (Scotland) Act 1985, a father or mother must provide maintenance for his or her child. A child is defined as anyone under 25 who is "reasonably and appropriately undergoing instruction at an educational establishment." Your children can seek aliment from their mother to include university fees. If it's not forthcoming, they can raise a court action against her. They may get legal aid.

Will feu feud cost me pounds 150?

I STOPPED paying feu duty on my property four years ago as I thought the Scottish Parliament would abolish it in its first term. Now I've got a demand for pounds 150. Can you advise?

FEU duty remains in force until the Abolition of Feudal Tenure (Scotland) Act becomes law next year. Feudal landlords can still recover arrears after that time and are entitled to compensation for the loss of their entitlement to feu duty. Property owners are responsible for paying compensation though any claim must be served within two years of the new Act.

I can't afford to pay Legal Aid

I TOOK my boss to an employment tribunal and won. I found another job and paid back the legal aid costs for eight months before becoming unemployed. Now the legal aid board want pounds 900 and I can't afford to pay.

SINCE your claim was successful, the board would require to be reimbursed. Any information about change of status after legal aid must be given to the board within a reasonable time. Either your solicitor has not forwarded the information or it wasn't received by the board. You should ask him to send it again. If your solicitor has failed to act on your behalf, you may have a claim against him.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 4, 2003
Words:1656
Previous Article:dilemmas; WILL I EVER TRUST MY GUY AGAIN?
Next Article:THE RUNNING MAN; Sports tycoon flees his pounds 500,000 flat after shop chain goes bankrupt.


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