A FRAUDSTER is operating a lucrative scam by buying cars with counterfeit bank drafts and then selling them for cash.
He has already swindled car owners out of €130,000 since he started the scam six months ago.
Gardai have managed to recover 14 out of the 15 vehicles involved in the fraud.
The well-organised operation involves the use of innocent drivers who are hired by the fraudster and duped into acting as his couriers.
The fraudster targets owners who are selling their cars on internet sites.
Negotiations are usually protracted to allow the fraudster time to line up a subsequent buyer for the car.
He usually insists on completing the deal on a Thursday evening or a Friday and his courier hands over a counterfeit bank draft, which cannot be checked by the bank until Monday morning.
In the meantime, he has taken possession of the vehicle and sold it on to an unsuspecting buyer for cash.
In the midst of his negotiations with the seller, the fraudster looks up websites such as jobs.ie and seeks out drivers legitimately looking for work.
He pays the driver around €200 to collect a counterfeit bank draft from a hotel reception desk and then take it to the seller.
The courier then brings the car keys to a hotel reception.
Another courier is hired to collect the car keys and then leave the car at an agreed location and pick up the cash from the unsuspecting buyer.
The courier is told to leave the cash in an agreed location, deducting his fee of €200 from the payment for the vehicle.
Sometimes, the fraudster uses taxi drivers -- paying them €20 to deposit an envelope containing the forged draft at the hotel.
"It's very simple but also very effective", gardai said last night. "At no stage does the fraudster come into direct contact with the buyers, sellers or couriers and he never features on CCTV footage at the selected hotels.
"And by the time the victims realise they have been stung, he has disappeared and cannot be traced."
Det Sgt Finbarr Garland, who is in charge of the force's stolen vehicles unit, has appealed to taxi drivers who have been offered money to make a delivery to a hotel reception desk to contact the gardai.
He said: "A lot of people have been left out of pocket and we want to put an end to this scam by bringing a prosecution".
Investigating officers have already compiled a shortlist of likely suspects.
The scams have all been carried out around west Dublin and north Kildare, concentrating on Liffey Valley, Lucan, Leixlip, Celbridge and Maynooth.
The 15th car, which has not yet been recovered, is a Volkswagen Passat, which gardai believed has been stashed away in a lock-up garage as the fraudster looks for another victim.
Meanwhile, in a separate scam, a Dublin-based criminal is collecting cars that have been written off from scrap yards, and then stealing a similar vehicle to use for parts.
The scrapped car is then restored using the stolen parts and put back on the road for sale.
Eleven cars have so far been stolen in connection with this scam, mainly top of the market Mercedes, BMWs and Audis.
The main suspect has already been arrested and questioned in connection with two of the cars.