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10. 02. 10. - 12:00

Pyramid scheme victims in Styria

At least four hundred people have lost millions in a pyramid scheme in Styria, police have said.

The scheme which started in summer 2008 cost at least 400 people a total of 2.5 million Euros, according to police in Voitsberg.

Alfred Valeskini from the Voitsberg police said today (Weds): "We have learned about 400 victims, and the amount of money they have lost is at least 2.5 million Euros and rising."

He added that the victims included residents of the areas around Voitsberg and Mrzzuschlag and of Graz-Umgebung district.

The scheme was used by its perpetrators under the names "Gift Circle" and "Enterprise Forum," Valeskini said.

He said 45 people had already been charged with involvement in the scheme and 13 others were suspected of involvement.

Police searches of their residences turned up lists of participants who were promised 10,000 Euros one year after an initial investment of 5,000 Euros provided they recruited at least two other people who would also invest 5,000 Euros.

Valeskini said the police investigation of the scheme would be finished by summer and he would not be surprised if the number of victims wound up in the thousands.

Although the Styrian pyramid scheme appears to be a wholly domestic affair, Austrians are being targeted by fraudsters throughout Europe, police warned yesterday.

They said Austrians were being sent faxes and e-mails promising them inheritance money if they in turn made a prepayment or supplied their bank account data.

Styrian police said many Styrians had received faxes from an English woman named Sandra Talbot, who claimed she was an advisor of a dead relative of theirs who had left an inheritance of 7.5 million Euros and fax addressees had only to register with her to qualify for some of it.

The faxes said that 20 per cent of the inheritance would go to charity and the rest would be divided up among the advisor and addressees.

Police said the fraudsters goal was to get as many people as possible to register to enable them to discuss remittances of money to cover the advisors "expenses," for example.

Police warned people not to make contact with Talbot or to remit any money to her.

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