NSW Police Rural Crime Investigators have arrested a 27-year-old man over a scam targeting farmers from drought-affected communities, including Dubbo.
Earlier this week, Strike Force Woden was established to investigate reports of a man advertising hay bales on social media for a discounted price, taking an initial deposit for the fodder, but not delivering any product.
About 7.40am Thursday, January 23, Strike Force Woden investigators, assisted by Bass Hill Region Enforcement Squad, executed a search warrant at Villawood and arrested the man.
Police received reports of victims in the Mid North Coast, the Hunter Valley, the Southern Highlands, the Hills, and the Oxley, Nepean, and Port Stephens areas.
He was taken to Fairfield Police Station, where he is expected to be charged.
ALSO MAKING NEWS: Dust, thunderstorms predicted to end a very hot day | Video, photos
Detective Inspector Cameron Whiteside of the Rural Crime Prevention team said police initially uncovered nine victims from NSW, with the financial loss in excess of $30,000.
"But it's been climbing since that date. That figure was a couple of days ago, since that time we've uncovered further alleged victims in NSW, but also one interstate in Queensland," Det Insp White said.
Police initially uncovered a number of offences in the last month, but more people have come forward with information of a similar nature that goes back as far as five months ago, Det Insp White said.
Story continues after video...
The Rural Crime Prevention team leader encourages people who may have been contacted by anyone in respect to online rural fraud to contact their local police.
"While the person has been arrested, the investigation is very much ongoing and please don't be embarrassed by the fact that you may have parted with money or fell to this scam," Det Insp Whiteside said.
"The reason scams work is because they genuinely appear real... that coupled with the fact that you may be vulnerable is a recipe that may make you depart with you money."
ALSO MAKING NEWS: PETA blames the wool industry for Australian bushfires
Det Insp Whiteside said these fraud allegations had hit a new low level.
"We are on the back of a drought that is ongoing, bushfires and now the vulnerable people on our rural communities have now been taken advantage of....," he said
Det Insp Whiteside said the man was offering lucerne hay, which because of the ongoing drought conditions is not as readily available and has seen a price increase.
Strike Force Woden was headed by the Rural Crime Prevention team at Lismore and involved Rural Crime Investigators from Parkes, Muswellbrook, Windsor, Tamworth and a number of areas in between.
Det Insp Whiteside said police would allege that the person before the court had taken advantage of this situation and facilitated a number of contacts with people that were vulnerable.
"And they (the victims) parted with sums of cash, which the hay has not been delivered in this point in time," he said.