A man calling himself Sam Cocks has been passing himself off as an employee of London firm Berry Bros & Rudd and scamming the merchant’s suppliers out of hundreds of thousands of euros worth of stock.
He has been contacting numerous Bordeaux châteaux and other BBR suppliers and asking for new stocks of wine – even products such as olive oil.
Speaking to the drinks business, buyer Max Lalondrelle, explained that the scam has afflicted the merchant for the past three years.
He said: “We have been victims over the past couple of years, we think of a gang based in London.
“Luckily this time around he has used a different name but usually they take the name of a person in the company already, including my name which has been used many times.
“They send these emails to 3,000-4,000 people across Europe asking to buy wine or even olive oil, which normally we don’t buy of course.
“They use our names and our bank guarantees to secure stock. People know us, trust us, and so when they’re asked to deliver even to a yellow storage somewhere they do.”
When asked how much has been scammed over the past few years he said: “It’s unfortunately something we cannot stop, we have managed to stop quite a lot, but from people I know some have lost as much as €100,000 worth of wine.
“In total must be hundreds and hundreds of thousands of euros.”
BBR was made aware of the deception when the châteaux and estates finally grew suspicious and, as Lalondrelle mentioned, the scammer finally used a name none of them recognised.
One such previous request using Lalondrelle’s name was sent to a merchant in Holland. The list makes for extraordinary reading, asking as it does for cases of Henri Jayer 1985, various vintages of Pétrus, Lafite and Latour daing back to 1982, 2005 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, 1989 Yquem and 2003 Mouton Rothschild.
However, noticeable mistakes, such as DRC “écheveaux” and “Crystal” show that the sender of the request is not well acquainted with the actual spelling of fine wine names.
The English version of the letter sent to db claims that BBR – which specialises in sales “in all United (England, the Scotland and Ireland) – “looks for urgently wines for purchase.”
The poor English translation and other mistakes suggests that the perpetrator is a non-native speaker – though the better quality of the French suggests they may be French speaking Africans in origin.
The phone number given on the letter is also not one connected to BBR.
BBR has worked closely with the Wine and Spirits Trade Association and the Metropolitan Police in this matter and directs people’s attention to the WSTA’s fraud guides which are printed in a wide range of languages.
It has also been confirmed that Bibendum was the victim of a similar identity theft in spring last year, when small French producers were contacted by someone claiming to represent the company.
Gareth Groves, Bibendum’s head of communications, told db that when the company was made aware of the fact it moved to make producers both in its portfolio and those outside of it aware of the scam through the WSTA and French police.
“The last thing we want is for small producers to be defrauded in our name,” he said before adding that following the spate of fraudulent emails, no more claiming to be from Bibendum have been received.
Lalondrelle suggested that any suppliers of the merchant who receive suspicious emails supposedly from the company asking for stock contact BBR first to ensure whether or not it is genuine.