Police halt 1000 hard drives at border amidst fake purchase scam
An invoicing email scam that left a Christchurch solar panel manufacturer $32,000 out of pocket earlier this year has returned, the police financial crime unit says.
Detective sergeant Michael Cartwright said police stopped 1000 computer hard drives being sent to scammers overseas in recent weeks.
The hard drives were ordered from New Zealand suppliers and were awaiting shipping at a freight company in Auckland. Cartwright said. He could not name any of the companies involved.
The victim companies had been tricked by fake purchasing orders using altered email addresses purporting to come from New Zealand universities and a district health board.
The freight companies then received poorly spelled emails asking for the goods to be sent overseas. The freight companies reported the suspicious emails to police, Cartwright said.
He said the altered email addresses had minor punctuation changes, but looked legitimate.
The scammers emailed companies asking for a quote, typically for industrial or electronic goods. After receiving a quote, the scammer sent a purchasing order and paid for the shipping cost to have them delivered.
After the goods had been delivered the supplier of the goods would send an invoice to the university or DHB the scammer claimed to be from.
By the time the university or the DHB realised they had not placed the order, the goods had already been shipped to the scammer and the supplier was left thousands of dollars out of pocket.
Cartwright said four other businesses in the past two weeks had received emails for quotes from the universities of Waikato and Otago using altered email addresses.
The scammers had requested invoices for a $6500 industrial baking machine and a calorie counting machine worth about $20,000, Cartwright said.
He said the businesses targeted were mostly in Auckland and made or sold machinery, computer or camera equipment.
When the scam circulated earlier this year, police asked domain name provider Tucows in Canada to block the fake email addresses the scammers were using.
Cartwright said the current round of the scam was "very difficult" to shut down because the email domain names had been registered in countries in the Middle East and Africa.
Those countries had "different priorities" and did not respond quickly when the offences happened, he said.
"There is not a lot from a policing perspective that we can do because of the layers of this scam overseas… Prevention is the best method."
"We encourage companies to check the legitimacy of any invoice and if they receive an invoice similar to those described, they should immediately contact the relevant organisation to check its legitimacy before sending any goods," Cartwright said.