Bad spelling uncovers scam

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The Independent Online
Details of an elaborate scheme to steal money from the banking system emerged yesterday as the Serious Fraud Office secured a conviction against the scam's organisers and "stooge" recipients of almost pounds 2m of fraudulent money transfers. The scheme, which ended after a high-speed car chase across Oxfordshire, was foiled after a simple spelling mistake linked 131 forged letters around the country.

Richard Culverhouse, 53, was yesterday found guilty of obtaining property by deception in the case brought by the SFO and the West Midlands Police fraud squad. Seven others, who had allowed their accounts to be used to receive falsely authorised transfers, pleaded guilty, as did the scam's five organisers.

Between December 1995 and May 1996 they forged letters of authority from customers of one bank to transfer funds to an account at another bank. The details were obtained by asking the victim companies for their bank account information, under the pretext of setting up a payment under the Clearing House Automated Payment System, and by researching letterheads and directors' signatures at Companies House.

Despite operating in more than 20 different police areas to try and keep one step ahead of the SFO and the police, the letters of authority were linked by the consistent mis-spelling of the word "sincerely" when signing off the correspondence.

At the peak of the scheme, the perpetrators were seeking to obtain more than pounds 1m a month.