Earlier this month, Kionna Watkins received a text message from a company offering motorists $600 a week to temporarily turn their vehicles into rolling advertisements for Bang, a popular line of energy drinks.
“We pay you to drive your own vehicle,” the company‘s website explained. “We get lots of exposure and awareness from doing this.”
Watkins was skeptical, but the online application looked legitimate. The company would arrange for a “professional installer” to place the removable decals on Watkins’ car, and she’d receive weekly payments for the next three months.
“Our clients advertise on many vehicles and yours could be one of them,” the company said. “You can get that extra cash you wanted without driving any differently than you already do right now.”
Watkins, who lives in Aberdeen, received a FedEx package Monday containing a check for $2,980. The amount was meant to cover her first payment and any costs associated with plastering her car with Bang stickers, according to the accompanying letter from a man who identified himself as “Ronnie Taylor.”
But the check did not come from Vital Pharmaceuticals Inc., the Florida company that produces Bang. The check was from the Catawba County Alcoholic Beverage Control board, which is overseen by a man named Ronnie Kaylor.
“It’s fake,” Kaylor said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “Scams like this have been going on for about two-and-a-half years with us and other ABC boards, but this is a different take on it. This is a new scam.”
An earlier version of the scheme, Kaylor said, aimed to make victims believe they were being rewarded for their work as “secret shoppers.” He became aware of the latest scam following a recent complaint from a victim in Kentucky.
Writing in an email, Jeff Strickland, public affairs director for the North Carolina ABC Commission, confirmed that the check is “fraudulent and was not issued by the ABC board.”
The watermarked check looked convincing, but Watkins wasn’t duped. Nobody, she said, “sends that amount of money without attempting in any type of way to verify that you are who you are and that you drive what you drive.”
After reviewing a photograph of the check, Kaylor pointed out that the account number was wrong.
“The scammers did have our account number at one point, and the commission originally thought that someone at one of the distilleries was taking the account numbers from different boards and making the checks,” he said. “But now every time someone takes one of the checks to the bank, the bank runs the check and sees it isn’t our account number.”
Because the checks are flagged as phony by the banks, the funds are never taken from the ABC Board’s operational account.
“We cannot for the life of us figure out what the scam is,” Kaylor said. “I’m retired from law enforcement, and I cannot figure it out.”
Watkins, herself a former police officer, has a theory.
“Typically, the way it goes is the bank will make the funds available if you have the funds in your account to honor the check,” she said. “If a person has the funds available, she’s honoring the check.”
In other words, the scammers hope to bilk secured funds from the victim’s account before the victim realizes the fraudulent check has bounced.
The check Watkins received Monday was the second one she’d been sent by the scammer. It was mailed Thursday from Collins Electrical in Modesto, California.
Writing in the letter, the scammer instructed Watkins to notify him when the funds had been deposited. She would need to wire a potion of the money to a “professional graphics installer,” the letter said.
No one answered when The Pilot called the phone number listed in the scammer’s letter. Text messages from a reporter were met with responses that appeared to be automated.
“Scammers know it all, and they feed off the vulnerable,” Watkins said. “If something sounds too good to be true, then it is.”
It is unclear if the scam was modeled after an existing promotion for Bang energy drinks. Robbie Durand, vice president of media for Vital Pharmaceuticals, did not immediately respond to questions from The Pilot.