Mail Scams Rapidly Increasing
Pamela Allen realized something was wrong.
With a check for more than $2,000 deposited in her bank account and a letter promising much more, she was at Western Union filling out a form to wire money to a company to pay the processing fee to get her winnings.
"I read the big paragraph on the face of the form that said if you are promised a large sum of money if you send money, then stop," she said.
She did some quick research and learned she had nearly been swindled out of a large sum of money.
"I called the bank that the check was written on, and they said the account was closed," she said. "I knew right then that it was a scam. And since then, I know you shouldn't have to send money to win money."
Allen was nearly the victim of mail fraud.
Officers from the Moore County Sheriff's Office say attempts to scam local residents via mail, phone or e-mail have increased sharply during the holidays.
"It seems to have picked up recently," said Capt. Richard Talbert. "In the last four months, it has increased 10 times over what it was."
The letters often come in the mail on letterhead that appears, at first glance, to be legitimate - places like "Dominion Investment Securities Inc." or "Sweepstakes learing House International" or "Skylight Financial Services Inc."
The letters promise the winners cash money, or even send along a check. The catch is that the recipient must contact the organization by phone and make arrangements to pay a nominal fee - an amount that can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand - to claim their prize.
When they call the phone number listed, they are often instructed to send the money via Western Union.
Talbert said the easiest advice to follow is that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If anyone receives correspondence that asks them to send money to receive merchandise or a large sum of money, they should contact their local law-enforcement agency first.
And whatever you do, don't call them back.
'They Are Good'
"They are con artists, and they are good," Talbert said. "They make you feel like you've won. Or worse, they solicit information from you that they will use to clean you out.
"They make it so tempting with the letter and the way they word it, and then if you call them they carry the temptation further. Some people, in the back of their minds, may think, 'Maybe I did win.'"
The scammers often operate outside the United States and are not governed by U.S. laws.
"We've had people lose money, and we had others call us and ask us to help them get their money," Talbert said. "There's really not anything we can do. There is no way to pursue it, so ultimately the responsibility falls on the citizens, because they are responsible for the money."
Law-enforcement officers advise that if you receive something in the mail offering you money or prizes that requires you to send in money or provide personal information like a signature or bank account number, contact law enforcement immediately.
No one seems immune to receiving a letter. Scammers target people of all ages, including law-enforcement agents. Moore County Sheriff's Deputy James Hill said he has received several scam letters.
"They look like they are real," Hill said. "I got three in a two-week period."
Hill said he has contacted his bank and been told that banks are being flooded with the fraudulent checks.
Hill said if residents receive the checks, they should destroy them. If they receive a call, they should write down the phone numbers and as much information about the scam and the scammers as possible and then contact law enforcement.
'Real Big Mess'
Hill never fell for the scam.
Sandra Johnson did.
She received a letter in the mail informing her she had won a camera and that she needed to send in a processing fee to have the camera released and shipped to her. She sent in the money, about $40, she said, but never received the camera.
Months later, she began getting flooded with letters claiming that she had won large sums of money.
She even received a check similar to the one received by Allen.
"I got a real check for $2,900," Johnson said.
But Johnson too, figured something was amiss.
"If you win and you have to call somebody to verify that you received the winning check and then call them after you cashed the check, that doesn't make sense to me," Johnson said.
Johnson said she remembers when her daughter received a similar check some years ago and attempted to use the check to purchase a car. The check was no good, and the car company threatened a lawsuit over the incident.
"It became a real big mess," Johnson said.
She said she has been collecting all the letters she has received in recent months and plans to deliver them to the authorities.
Allen is also doing what she can.
Earlier this week, she received a call from someone named Greg, who said she had won $500,000. Knowing it was a scam, Allen asked Greg, and a man she described as having a "foreign-sounding accent," to speak with someone who had won money. She said she was given a phone number with the same three-digit exchange as the call she had received from Greg.
"The guy was supposed to be in Michigan, N.C.," she said. "Have you ever heard of Michigan, N.C.? He said, 'I won money,' and I'm sitting there thinking, 'Sure you did. You are standing there next to Greg and you both are laughing to yourselves because you are both thinking you are getting a bunch of money from me. Well, it ain't gonna happen."
Allen said that she was asked to forward money to an address in New York. She said she has called the North Carolina attorney general's office hoping that it will be able to catch the men trying to scam her.
"I would love to help to catch these people," Allen said. "They are terrorists. They are going after poor folks, old folks and people living the American dream."
Contact Tom Embrey at email@example.com.
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