Sale attracts e-mail fraudsters
Wednesday, 16 July, 2003, 15:19 GMT 16:19 UK
Police in Scotland have renewed warnings after a woman was targeted in a new variation of an e-mail fraud.
The number of examples of possible frauds forwarded to detectives in Lothian and Borders trebled after an appeal last month.
They included a case where a woman who advertised a motorbike for sale on the internet was targeted.
She was initially offered about Ă‚ÂŁ3,500 more than the asking price by someone from an African state.
"What they wanted to do was to send me all the money and I was to take off the price of the bike and then send the rest of the money to a shipping agent via Western Union Money Transfer," she explained.
She thought the offer was "a bit suspect" - a feeling confirmed when someone else got in touch suggesting the same scheme.
She forwarded the e-mails to Lothian and Borders Police's specialist fraud unit, which has set up a special section on the force's website for what are known as 419 letters, or advance fee fraud.
Detective Inspector Jim McCartan, of the fraud unit, confirmed that the offer was a scam.
"This is another variation on the usual scam," he told BBC News Online Scotland.
"People are becoming aware that these things are scams so they are trying different routes now."
He said the fraudsters were not particularly interested in their target's bank details.
They would instead start seeking money up front for things like shipping costs or administrative fees.
In other scams, which often involve the promise of large sums of money for helping to access money in bank accounts, the fraudster asks the target for money to bribe officials.
The motorbike seller said she thought the e-mails she received were "quite strange" but stressed she would "never be that daft" as to fall for such a scheme.
'Make people aware'
The bike was eventually sold to the first person who looked at it - without any help from the internet advert.
"I wanted to make people aware of the scams that can be out there," she added.
Mr McCartan said those behind the frauds tried to prey on people's greed.
"You would be amazed at the number of people who do go along with it," he said.
The force issued a warning over scams last month after the number of e-mails received by the fraud unit rose from 66 to 360 a month in the space of a year.
Mr McCartan said there had been a huge response following the appeal, which highlighted a scam involving false e-mails from alleged son of Saddam Hussein.
Over the last month the force received about 1,000 e-mails from people who believed they had been targeted by 419 letters.
They included one purporting to be from the head of Saddam's legal department.
Mr McCartan said other variations included letters which were sent with European or even Scottish post marks to make them look genuine.
But he stressed: "They are all scams."