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Web scammers sell Indian PM's house to American

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You'd imagine there is not a man, woman or child in Christendom who has not heard the classic - and likely apocryphal - tale of how enterprising Londoners sold the defunct old London Bridge to some enthusiastic Americans who thought they were buying Tower Bridge.

Well, here's someone who must have been out playing golf when that particular yarn did the rounds stateside: John Hammond from Little Rock, Arkansas, who paid more than $800,000 for a nice little place in New Delhi which he spotted on the web, only to discover later he had "bought" the Indian prime minister's official residence.

A suitably embarrassed Hammond told the Hindustani Times: "I run a consultancy firm in the US and was planning to open an office here. I was scouting the Net for a good property when I came across this website that had some very attractive offers listed. No. 7 Race Course Road was described as a 'huge, sprawling mansion in the heart of Lutyen's Delhi with 24x7 running water and electricity'. There were even pictures of the place and I liked it immediately. I got in touch with the so-called estate agents who promised to give me a good deal. What a deal it has turned out to be!"

After months of negotiations, Hammond duly transferred the funds to a Cayman Islands bank account and thereafter received his title deeds. Only when he arrived in New Delhi and jumped into a cab to his new pad did the horrible truth begin to dawn on the hapless scammee.

The Indian police admit Hammond and his money are unlikely to be reunited. An officer from the Special Investigation Team charged with probing the outrage said: "What can we do? The gang operates on an international scale and is most likely based outside India. The account in the Cayman Islands has already been closed and the money transferred. The banking laws there allow people to open accounts through local lawyers. In this case, the lawyer who handled the entire transaction says he received instructions over the phone and never met his principles. It's a complete dead-end."

The flabbergasted copper added: "It helps if people aren't so gullible. Hammond is a successful businessman in his own country - why couldn't he have verified the antecedents of the property that had been put for sale? A call to any government office in India would have told him whose house he was really buying." ®

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