Scammer comes away empty-handed

Published 10:23 am Thursday, February 11, 2016

AHOSKIE – It pays to use common sense.

A local woman was able to hold on to her hard-earned money by not “taking the bait” of a scam that came to her in the form of a check mailed in the amount of $3,650.

“When things look too good to be true, then more often than not, it’s a lie,” said the woman whose name is being withheld. “I got this letter telling me I had matched the first five lucky winning numbers and had won the second place prize money of $250,000 in the European, African and North America Consumer sweepstakes. I didn’t enter a sweepstakes by that name, so how could I win?”

Had this local woman fallen for the scam, she would have been on the hook for $3,650.

Here’s how the scam works. The recipient of the letter is requested to call a claims agent (in this case, the letter referred to that person as Rita Adams) in order to “start your claim processing and activate your check” (as stated in the letter, a copy of which was provided to this newspaper).

Once the check is “activated” the person is instructed to deposit the amount into their personal checking account at their bank, and use $3,300 to apply to a Western Union Moneygram or other pre-loaded debit transaction (to include a GreenDot Money Card) and send it electronically to a certain address.

The “hook” in this scam is that the check is worthless, meaning once it bounces, the person cashing/depositing it winds up having to cover that amount plus any banking fees associated with a bad check. Meanwhile, the scammer winds up pocketing $3,300 that is untraceable due to it being sent electronically.

In this case, the check sent to the Ahoskie address was supposedly drawn on an account at Bank One in Dearborn, Michigan. However, the R-C News-Herald investigated the routing number on the check and learned it was linked to an address in Tampa, Florida.

The letter was sent through a company identified as Old Mutual Financial, Inc. with offices listed in Los Angeles, Capetown, South Africa, Dublin, Ireland, and London, England. An online check of that company did not yield any results.

“The check looked so real. I can see how someone could fall for it, but I’m sure glad I didn’t,” said the local woman.

She also reported the scam to the Ahoskie police.

“We thank our citizens for making us aware of these types of scams,” said Ahoskie Police Chief Troy Fitzhugh. “While it’s hard for us to track down and prosecute these out-of-state scammers, the key here is that we are aware of contact being made to one of our citizens and we, along with your help at the newspaper, can make others aware of cases such as this and hopefully they’ll make wise decisions to avoid these scams.”

Fitzhugh advised local citizens to “do your homework” before falling for such ploys.

“It’s a shame that there are people out there with nothing better to do other than devise ways to steal your hard-earned money. When you receive such notification, I would first suggest that you do some research, either online or through the Better Business Bureau, into the legitimacy of the company that sent you a letter or contacted you by phone,” Fitzhugh stressed.

There are four basic ways to identify a scam of this nature: (1) they contact you, unsolicited; (2) they dangle bait, like a large sum of money, to you; (3) you have to pay them some sort of processing fee or check activation fee; and (4) you have to wire them the money instead of mailing it.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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