By LOUISA CLEAVE
Auckland companies, including travel agencies and law firms, have been hit by a sophisticated cheque scam involving more than $1 million.
Victims and police investigating the thefts are trying to figure out how the people involved are intercepting cheques sent via courier companies.
The cheques are either altered or replicated in a "washing" system where the payee details are changed and the amount significantly altered before it is presented to a bank.
A West Auckland travel agent told the Herald one of his company cheques, sent to a client using the DX mailing system, had been intercepted and duplicated before continuing on its way to the recipient.
A few days later, a cheque for more than $26,000 from his company was presented for deposit at a bank.
However, the cheque number had been altered and was several digits away from cheques yet to be used, he said.
The travel agent, who did not want to be named, said inquiries carried out by his company after it was hit revealed that about $1.2 million had so far been stolen in the scam.
"Cheques are being intercepted but nobody knows how," he said. "In our case, the cheque was duplicated and the original was sent on and received."
The duplicated cheque was picked up by a bank teller making an inquiry on an unrelated matter, he said.
The Herald understands that a dozen people have recently been charged with fraud-related offences, but they are only foot soldiers in the ring.
The Auckland District Law Society last Friday alerted its members to the scam in its Law News magazine.
It said an Asian syndicate was behind the scam.
Cheques had been intercepted from a number of Auckland firms, the article said.
One Auckland firm told the magazine it paid a cheque of $1600 and found it had been re-presented with new details and cashed for $30,000 to an Asian payee.
Another law firm described how it was defrauded of $40,000.
By LOUISA CLEAVE