By Kristin Edge
Computer businessman Alex Wills turned into a super-sleuth after a fraudster with a stolen cheque scammed him out of an expensive laptop.
The 25-year-old from Papamoa undertook a detective-style operation to recover $3800 worth of computer gear when he discovered he had been ripped off.
The conman was using a stolen chequebook and passport while wearing a stolen suit.
Mr Wills' two-month operation ended when he drove to Auckland, posed as a buyer in a secondhand shop and seized back his computer, which he had spotted on the internet site Trademe.
The laptop's recovery has ended a frustrating hunt for the fraudster, who is believed to have used stolen cheques on a computer-buying spree around the North Island.
"I've probably spent $1000 in petrol and toll calls tracking this computer. I'm out of pocket. I just hope this guy gets caught," Mr Wills told the Bay of Plenty Times. The trouble began when the fraudster stole a chequebook from a rural Taranaki house in July. At the same time a passport was stolen, as well as a dress suit.
The thief, aged in his 40s, then began his buying spree, which led him to Mr Wills and his home-based computer business in August.
He said he wanted a "high-end laptop" for his son who was starting a film and video course at university.
"He sounded legitimate and was real cool, calm and collected. He talked about his kids and about his life," Mr Wills said.
"He had an answer for everything."
The fraudster said he owned a company with an Auckland office and imported jewellery for sale in chain stores around the country.
He happily signed the stolen cheque, used the stolen passport for identity and walked away with the IBM computer.
Only days later, when the cheque bounced and he was contacted by the bank, did Mr Wills realise he had been scammed.
Then came the hard task of reclaiming his property.
He contacted police and alerted them to the man presenting dud cheques.
He spent days on the internet, trawling through sites trying to spot the computer and toiled into the night.
Then there were the phone calls to computer shops around the country to warn them about the fraudster.
He even drew up fliers and distributed them to businesses in the hope he could track down the conman.
Mr Wills said he launched his investigation out of frustration with police.
"Twice I rang the police and let them know this guy was trying it on in a shop right then but they did nothing.
"One officer at Auckland police station said they didn't go to burglaries or theft any more," Mr Wills said.
Finally, after hours of sleuthing, he traced the computer to a second-hand dealer in Auckland and drove up there.
"I turned it over and saw the serial number and said it was mine.
"Then, ironically, we went across the road to the police station.
"I think it's time that the Government was given some real pressure to stop using the police force as another revenue stream and start providing real policing."
The alleged fraudster is currently in police custody in Wellington on other charges.
Thanks to intervention from Tauranga police, he may now end up being prosecuted for having bought Mr Wills' computer with a stolen cheque.