League stars scammed

17:00, Jul 03 2010

WARRIORS legends Wairangi Koopu, Stacey Jones and Awen Guttenbeil have been caught up in a bizarre case of identity theft.

A scammer has for the past several weeks pretended to be league hard man-turned-TV star Koopu, arranging a supposed contract for him via email with a fledgling American rugby league competition.

Sunday News has obtained copies of the emails sent by the fraudster to American National Rugby League boss David Niu – a former Dragons NRL halfback.

In the correspondence, the person pretending to be Koopu also tells Niu he has convinced enforcer Guttenbeil to join the league, and also promised to try to get halfback great Jones on board.

Koopu first discovered he had been linked to the American league when a news article appeared a fortnight ago.

In the article, Niu said: "As far as I know, he [Koopu] is heading to the Northern Raiders [a New York-based club]. He's been in contact with me for some time about our domestic league and future pro league opportunities."

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Koopu was baffled by the story, and had to fend off puzzled inquiries from Maori TV, where he works as a sports presenter, he told Sunday News.

Koopu contacted Niu after the story was picked up by radio stations around the country.

"I emailed him and asked what was going on and why he was saying I had agreed to join his competition. He got back to me straight away with his apologies.

"He said to me, 'Mate, as far as I was aware, you have been emailing me for the last few weeks saying you are on your way to America'.

"He was really apologetic about the whole thing and he told me he would forward me all the emails he had received from someone who was pretending to be me."

Among the series of emails, beginning June 11, the fraudster says:

"hi david this is wairangi koopu, i am interested in playing for the northern raiders this year in july-probably the last 2 games of the amnrl season and im also wanting to play in the pro league competition your having next year if you can get something organised for me soon, i will be there in july. reply back soon if you can please.

"the raiders are keen to have me play for them. when i get there we will speak more, might move there permanently depending on what its like over there. i will try and get stacey jones and awen guttenbeil over there too. they are playing/coaching over here at pt chev. all the best with the amnrl this year.

"i also have awen guttenebil [sic] coming over we will be there this time next month."

Koopu said the day before the first media reports surfaced linking him to the American league, his wife was phoned by a friend who had seen the supposed news on social networking site Twitter.

"My wife hit me up when I got home from a match and wanted to know if I had some secret Twitter account," Koopu said.

"I was like, `huh?'. So we went online and there was some [fake] account there...and a photo of me."

Ironically, the real Koopu, who retired last year after a decade-long career in the NRL, had previously had discussions with Niu about playing in America.

"A year or two back, I had some contact with the guys from this American competition because they had this pretty big vision," he said.

Koopu said he was initially concerned about an invasion of his privacy, and couldn't understand what had motivated the identity thief.

"They seemed to know a fair bit about Awen, Stacey and I and what we are doing at the moment. It doesn't really worry me now, it's just weird.

"Sweet as man, you can go over to America, turn up at some club and pretend to be if you want – but I doubt you are going to be able to pull it off."

Niu was unable to be reached for comment.

Last month, Sunday News revealed officials had implemented a programme at all 16 NRL clubs to ensure players don't reveal too much about themselves on websites like Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday News