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Leading agents warn against internet scam

A prospective client purporting to be from Kuwait has contacted a number of industry figures
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Oliver St Lawrence, chairman of the Federation of Bloodstock Agents (FBA), and prominent US bloodstock agent Charlie Boden have issued a warning to fellow industry professionals to beware of what they believe to be a fraudulent internet scam targeting the bloodstock industry.

Both agents were contacted before Christmas by a prospective client purporting to be from Kuwait and claiming to have large sums of money to invest in bloodstock.

Such was his plausibility that St Lawrence found himself in Madrid to meet with a representative and Boden was all set for a transatlantic flight, having already sent $500 in good faith.

St Lawrence, who also manages Aislabie Stud in Newmarket, received an email just before Christmas and subsequently spoke with the individual, though his initial suspicion was that the person was trying to launder money.

"He was plausible without being an expert, talking about various sales and things," said St Lawrence. "He knew enough about bloodstock to keep the whole thing rolling. I didn't want to send him away and discover one of my fellow agents had a huge new client - it would have driven me mad.

"Travelling to Madrid turned out to be a bit of a blind alley. His representative and I were in a bank there, and she went to one of the booths and came back with a banker's draft with an awful lot of noughts at the end of it.

"It was suggested to me the cheque would need to be split up and that would cost money. I wasn't actually asked for money but the inference was that I was going to have to produce some. And also the inference was that I could split the interest with the person on this enormous cheque. It was at that stage I told them to disappear.

"I have a couple of clients in Madrid so it wasn't a completely wasted trip, as I went and saw them."

Across the pond

Boden also received a call from a UK mobile number before Christmas, with the individual claiming to have access to an inheritance worth $500 million, which needed to be invested in equine assets in order to avoid tax.

"He told me he ran a company so I've looked him up," said Boden. "The name he gave matched the name of the vice chairman of one of the biggest telecoms companies in the Middle East."

Boden found himself researching farms and sales companies and after regular correspondence agreed to meet the individual in Madrid, booking flights and accommodation.

Meanwhile, the pair set about establishing a bank account in London, with Boden providing documents, some of which had to be notarised. The individual claimed he wanted to deposit $250m into the account, before asking Boden to send £25,000 to an account in Hong Kong, which he claimed would show his siblings that Boden was his business partner.

"I said I'd send $500, that I could afford that, and wired it to Hong Kong knowing that I was kissing it goodbye," said Boden.

"I thought for $500 I'll look and see if I could get 250 big ones to spend. For the chance of getting the business, I said I'd show some good faith but said the $500 was all that he was getting out of me.

"At eight o'clock on the morning I was to leave for Madrid, he called and told me that he had to go to Wales unexpectedly due to some health issues, so I didn't end up going."

The next day Boden received another call asking him to send more money but he declined, before receiving another email, supposedly from the bank, with a misspelled name.

Boden immediately called the bank and got through to the bank manager's assistant, who explained that they did not reference any inheritance funds or have any accounts with the individual.

The bank's security department was alerted and the assistant suggested Boden should contact the US authorities.

"They said they get calls about internet scams all the time and that's what this was," said Boden.

Boden later contacted a colleague in Australia, who mentioned a tweet he had seen from St Lawrence warning people about the scam. 

St Lawrence suggests at least one other FBA member has been targeted, while Boden has heard of a couple of well-established trainers in the US who have also been approached.

"People should be aware that there's someone out there targeting our industry who has a passable, basic knowledge of it," warned St Lawrence, while Boden advised: "Be as inquisitive as you can."

Precedents

Bloodstock agents are not the first industry group to be targeted by fraudsters, as Hong Kong trainer Richard Gibson was the victim of internet fraud last winter, which Gibson said affected both his training business and personal life.

Leading jockeys including Jim Crowley, Paul Hanagan and Ryan Moore all fell victim to identity fraud three years ago, while trainer David Evans was also targeted in April 2017.


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People should be aware that there's someone out there targeting our industry who has a passable, basic knowledge of it
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