Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Fraudsters using name of Ulster centre for US scam

An Ulster research centre today said it had been unable to stop fraudsters using its name to con US people out of tens of thousands of dollars.

A Nigerian-based gang has been targeting Californian bookkeepers, claiming that they are doing experimental work for the Agricultural Research Institute of Northern Ireland (ARINI), which is based in Newforge Lane in Belfast.

However, US police have said they believe no one at the institute is involved in the scam, which involves the book-keepers being asked to send cash to Nigeria in return for false travellers cheques.

The gang first places adverts in Californian newspapers claiming that they need bookkeepers for part-time work.

They then claim to the bookkeepers that they are based in Africa, are going fieldwork for ARINI but are paid in UK travellers cheques, which they are unable to cash in the troubled west African country.

If a respondent seems interested, they are sent thousands of dollars in dud travellers cheques and told to keep 10% and send on the rest of the money to Nigeria.

Some gullible victims simply sent on 90% of the value of the travellers cheques before bringing the duds to the bank to be cashed.

Detective John Walsh of Victorville police station in southern California said that he has come across three such cases in the last week but managed to stop the scammers from obtaining about $$6,000 from the scheme.

It is believed that people in other parts of the US have also been caught up in the scam.

Detective Walsh said police did not suspect that anyone at the Belfast research centre was in on the scam and he did not know why the gang choose the institute as a front for its scam.

An ARINI spokesman said they had sought legal advice about what they could do to stop the frausters.

"However, we have been told there is little we can do because it is happening outside the UK jurisdiction," he added.

"We have tried to contact the website promoted by the people involved in this scam but we have had no response. However, we will continue to do all we can to stop the people behind this."

The institute is also investigating hoax job offers being made by someone claiming to be an ex-employee of the centre, which is part of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute.

A spokesman said: "It has come to the attention of AFBI that a number of people are in receipt of job offers/opportunities from someone claiming to be an ex-employee of either AFBI, Science Service or ARINI (Hillsborough).

"AFBI does not offer jobs in this manner, nor has it any knowledge of genuine ex-employees making such offers, and anyone receiving such an email should be suspicious of it.

"If you have received a suspicious job offer purporting to be from AFBI or an ex-employee then you can verify its authenticity by contacting us at info@afbini.gov.uk." The ARINI spokesman said they were unaware if there was a link between the false job offers and the US scam.

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