A 39-year-old Sydney man will face court today charged with 17 offences relating to a multi-million-dollar internet scam based in Australia.

The so-called Nigerian or West
African scam involved fraudsters sending a flood of spam emails telling people they could claim millions of dollars of lottery winnings, an inheritance, or a business opportunity - so long as they first sent money for expenses.

NSW police said yesterday's arrest came after a four-month investigation, and was the first arrest of a key Australian allegedly involved in the global scam.

State Crime Command Assets Confiscation Unit (ACU) detectives arrested the Sydney man during a search of a property at Nyngan in the State's central west.

He will face Dubbo Local Court today.

Simultaneous raids were conducted at two homes, in Cecil Hills and Lurnea, in Sydney's south-west, where police seized computers and documents.

ACU commander Inspector Jennifer Thommeny said the Sydney-based international syndicate had targeted hundreds of victims in Australia and overseas.

"In the last six months, we've probably tracked about $1.5 million," Inspector Thommeny told reporters in Sydney.

"This is really significant," she said. "We believe that this is the first arrest of its kind in the world relating to an Australian connection.

"We have identified victims who have been approached in NSW, South Australia, Victoria, Cyprus, Malaysia, Japan, Norway, Greece, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and England, and in many cases have been conned into handing over hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Inspector Thommeny said the racket was relatively simple to set up, but that it was often difficult to catch the culprits because the victims usually lived overseas.

"It's difficult to say whether we'll see an end to it, because it's all about people's gullibility," she said.

"It's all about whether or not they think they can win the lottery."

In the case of the Nigerian frauds, the victims had not even bought tickets.

Most people ignore such emails as being too good to be true - which they are - but others have become entangled.

Many victims were so embarrassed about being fooled that they never reported the crime.

"Sometimes you will get someone that's really ill and down on their luck and they think, 'Oh my god, it's a gift from heaven'," Inspector Thommeny said.

"It takes a very greedy, ruthless person to set up this scam, because it's very simple."

Some people realised their mistake after the first payment. Others kept handing over money, even when fraudsters demanded further fees.

Authorities issued freeze orders on nine Sydney properties, a UK property, and five vehicles - meaning they could not be sold, and could be confiscated if prosecutions were successful.

source: news

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