Law enforcement warns of check scam

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 2, 2006

Law enforcement is warning residents to watch out for mail scams that offer checks in exchange for huge financial windfalls.

Sgt. Justin Lovvorn said many residents in Greenville have been receiving letters that claim they have won lotteries totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. The letters are accompanied by a check - anywhere upwards of $5,000 - and the addressee is instructed to deposit that money in their bank account for &#8220necessary fees and taxes.” The victim then contacts the company that sent the check, gives the amount deposited and checking account information and a transfer of funds is arranged.

The problem, said Lovvorn, is that the checks are fraudulent. Victims end up owing the thousands of dollars to the bank.

&#8220People get caught up in the scam and think they may have won $100,000 or more,” said Lovvorn. &#8220And when they get the check they think ‘it's not my money' and deposit it.”

The scam is making its way around Alabama.

In early September, Attorney General Troy King warned consumers in the Wiregrass area about the same lottery scam now plaguing residents in Greenville. Lovvorn said Greenville police have seen six such letters from victims in the past four months.

&#8220I know there's been more than that, though,” he said. &#8220Some people get these in the mail and throw them in the trash. Others open them and think they've won money.”

Lovvorn said federal agencies are aware of the on-going scam. But those running the scam manage to stay one step ahead of law enforcement, setting up phony fronts in big cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles - even in Canada - and awaiting responses from gullible consumers. Lovvorn said they might stay place for as little as two weeks before picking up and moving to another city where they start the cycle all over again.

Lovvorn said residents who receive one of these scam letters should turn everything over to police.

&#8220Let us know that you have it, but don't take it down to the bank and cash the check,” he said. &#8220That's the worst thing you can do.”

&#8220Our best weapon against these scam artists is information, because information is power,” said King. &#8220The consumer specialists in my office are working to arm consumers with information to protect themselves from being victimized by international lottery scam artists. We are making progress, as more and more consumers realize that these solicitations are fraudulent, and are stopping these criminals from taking their hard-earned money and savings. &#8220

The following warning signs will help consumers recognize that what they have received is a scam:

€ If the letter asks for money up front, claiming that it is needed for such things as taxes, customs fees, or insurance;

€ If the letter asks for your financial account information claiming that money will be deposited;

€ If the solicitation includes a forged check with instructions for the consumer to send taxes and fees that purport to be covered by that check.

The Attorney General offered the following advice for consumers:

Do not send money. Never wire money in response to a letter you have not solicited or initiated. International lotteries do not operate through the mail, announcing out of the blue that you have won a contest you never even entered or a lottery for which you never bought a ticket.

Do not send personal or financial information. It can be used to steal your identity or invade your accounts. Never provide your information to someone who initiates a contact you did not solicit.

Check it out. If you receive an unknown check, verify its legitimacy with the bank upon which it is drawn, or check with the alleged source to see if they are aware of forgeries being circulated. If you receive an unexpected check from a company or person you do not do business with, assume that it may be a forgery or a bad check. Even if you believe a check is good, it is wise to wait until it has cleared the bank before spending funds.

Report it. The Federal Trade Commission maintains a database for education and enforcement efforts by various federal agencies. Consumers may forward this information directly to the FTC. If the fraudulent solicitation is received by email, consumers may simply forward it to the FTC, with no message necessary, to Consumers may notify the FTC directly by telephone at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357.) If the solicitation is received by mail, consumers are advised to return it to the Post Office marked for postal inspectors. If consumers have lost money, they should notify their local or regional FBI field office. Because of the international nature of these scams, recordkeeping and enforcement is handled by federal authorities.

&#8220Do not fall for the lies of these scam artists,” King warned Alabama consumers. &#8220”My best advice is what my grandfather always told me: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”