Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Banks bilked of $6 million

A con man in France convinced bank operators that he was an agent for the government tracking down terrorism. Furthermore, he convinced them to give him money. When they went to capture the man, they got his wife and mother-in-law, but he phoned from Israel to say that he's on the beach and plans to lay low and spend some of his booty.

An hour later, Gilbert rang, posing as the agent. He told the manager to buy a mobile telephone, to give him the number, to keep it switched on day and night and to speak to no one else about their conversation. He phoned her 40 times over the next 48 hours.

During the final call he asked for the names of her six richest customers. When she revealed them, he said that one was involved in financing terrorism and was about to withdraw a large sum.

Gilbert then demanded all the cash at the bank so he could mark the notes with microchips and keep track of the terrorist. A total of €358,000 was to be put in an briefcase and slipped under the door of a brasserie lavatory. The manager did as she was told. The money disappeared.

Gilbert’s next fraud was even more audacious, police say. He acquired information about important financial transactions and telephoned France’s biggest banks. Again posing as a DGSE agent, he said that some of the transactions were terrorist money-laundering operations and that the secret services needed to follow the money. But they could do so only if it were transferred to accounts abroad, he said.

The bankers believed him. Two payments of €2 million were made to accounts in Geneva and Hong Kong. However, both were blocked before the fraudster could withdraw them.

A third payment of €5.18 million was made to an account in Estonia. This time Gilbert was quicker. Police identified him by tracing his calls, but by the time they caught up with him he was in Israel.

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