Organized fraudsters are targeting Mac users through free-ads papers. Until recently they have been posing as the managers of Phone Doctor, a business based in Newcastle.
The criminals promise Apple equipment at bargain rates to equipment-hungry Mac fans. They then convince their victims to deposit funds into their accounts – with all transactions made over mobile phones.
One victim told Macworld: "I saw a G4 PowerBook with SuperDrive advertised for £1,000. I rang the number (a mobile) in the ad."
The victim was instructed to place the money in a Halifax bank account, claiming the account was that of Phone Doctor. Halifax sources told Macworld the account was in fact that of an individual, and the branch was in East London.
Phone Doctor is a mobile phone company based in Newcastle. Macworld spoke with the shop's manager, Alan Marshall. He said: "This has been going on for at least two months.'
The fraudsters knew that Phone Doctor closes all day on Wednesdays. Concerned victims – and some who the con men were trying to hoax – would be asked to call the premises on the land line on Wednesdays in order to confirm the shop existed.
Tricked, this week's victim deposited £1,000 into the Halifax account, £600 of which he borrowed from his girlfriend. The PowerBook never arrived.
He wasn't the first. Marshall confirmed that he had been contacted "at least half a dozen times" by defrauded Mac users looking for their promised Macs. "Everyone we seem to speak with is London-based," he added. "It's nothing to do with us – we've had the police down here – we've just been sucked in," he explained.
A spokesman for the Halifax Building Society warned: "Depositing money into a bank-account number which you have been given over a mobile phone is not something we advise. While you may think you are getting a deal there are far safer ways to transfer funds."
Marshall said: "I can't believe someone would put that kind of money in someone's bank account without physically seeing the goods, at least."
But for one victim, Christmas this year will be sorrier. "My girlfriend's money, my money that I'd saved up for ages – it's all gone," he sighed.
He added: "A PowerBook is my dream computer, and now I've got nothing."
"I've learned to shop from the Apple Store, or from legitimate dealers. I'll never put my money into someone else's account unless i know they are legitimate again," he cried.
Macworld advises bargain-hunting readers to be aware that fraud happens. Visit the shopping page for some tips on how to prevent fraud.
A number of victims of this particular fraud have been identified, and a police investigation is ongoing.