Space age con men detained

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Ho Chi Minh City police Monday detained three men in custody pending filing of criminal charges in a fake meteorite deal supportably worth US$3 million.

Tran Van Um and Chau Soc of the Mekong Delta provinces of Kien Giang and An Giang respectively were caught on April 29 attempting to cheat a man identified only as Le. T. T. in the city's outlying Binh Tan District.

Um, Soc and a city businessman named Nguyen Van Canh set up the scheme early in April after learning that T., who hails from south-central Ninh Thuan Province, was a rich fish meal dealer.

First they had Um, 43, make acquaintance with T. and win his confidence, and then invited him to co-invest in a meteorite for resale.

T. soon got a call from 37-year-old Canh saying he urgently needed a $3- million meteorite for some US space research centers.

The threesome waited for several days before Um informed T. that Soc in An Giang Province was selling a meteorite for a discount at VND10 billion ($562,300).

Lured by the prospect of making a phenomenal profit, T. agreed to go with Um to meet Soc in An Giang Province, bringing glass and a lighter to check if the meteorite was genuine.

The glass and the lighter were put into a bag that contained the meteorite, and then the parties began discussing the deal.

According to some beliefs, meteorites make lighters dysfunctional and causes glass to break.

During the discussion, Um blocked T.'s view so Soc could quickly change the contents of the bag replacing them with glass shards and a broken lighter T. was fooled by the ruse.

On April 29, T. and Um were about to give Soc a VND1-billion deposit, 40 percent of which was T.'s money, to take the meteorite and show it to Canh.

Tipped of by unrevealed sources, police caught Um and Soc red-handed, and Canh was brought to the police station later.

Canh, who claimed he owns a meteorite dealing company in District 12, admitted the company was operating only as a pawnshop.

The "meteorite" was a beautiful stone bought in Cambodia for VND2 million ($112), Soc told the police.

The police have found that the threesome have used the same scheme to cheat two other city residents for almost VND2 billion.

They are asking anyone who has been cheated by the meteorite scam to step forward and help investigate the case further and find out if a bigger ring is involved in the fraudulent business.

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