Nigerian conmen move into Hong Kong

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Nigerian fraudsters have switched operations to Hong Kong in an attempt to con gullible City firms out of millions before the colony is handed over to China in June.

The Metropolitan Police is warning that bogus Hong Kong firms have flooded City lawyers and accountants with letters asking for "advice" on relocating assets to the UK.

Respondents are likely to find their names, letterheads or signatures used to give credence to a variety of scams. They may also find their bank accounts emptied, and any foolish enough to pay money up front are unlikely to see anything again.

Hundreds of letters, from companies calling themselves Global Corporation or Global Industries, have been reported to the police and the Law Society since the end of last year.

The scam is reminiscent of widespread Nigerian frauds that have fleeced investors of millions of pounds in recent years. Typically they claim the existence of secret "blocked funds", which can be liberated via the respondent's bank account following the payment of an up-front fee.

"From the sources we have, it is definitely Nigerians who are running these Hong Kong schemes," said Detective Sergeant Tom Craig of the Metropolitan Police Fraud Squad.

The Met is co-operating with the Hong Kong Police, and the Law Society has also warned its members to be on the look-out.

"This is just the first wave. Anyone who has replied has already supplied a letterhead and a signature. Often that same signature appears on bank mandates," said Bob Butler, head of the Law Society's Monitoring Unit.

The scheme is just one of a range of get-rich-quick schemes perpetrated by international con-artists. Last month, at London's Southwark Crown Court, the trial started of a 52-year-old woman who claimed to have gold and platinum certificates worth $1,000bn (pounds 625bn) - more than double the value of what has been mined over the last 150 years.