Fake lotteries, bogus checks – firms see every type of scam

By THOMAS BROWN, T&D Staff Writer (September 4, 2006)

A local woman received the news of a lifetime. She was contacted by an international lottery telling her that she, along with 20 other people, would
share in a jackpot of $1,340,000.

The letter included a check for $2,150 to pay the taxes and clearance fees on her winnings.

She was instructed to cash the check and send the money to a designated North American agent and she would receive a total of $67,000 – minus
a sponsor’s commission of $5,360.

Hoping to receive the promised $61,640, the woman, attempting to do as the letter instructed her, took the $2,150 check to Ferse’s 5&10 on
Russell Street to cash it.

When Ferse’s owner Roy Chandler saw the check, he immediately recognized the scam. He’s had experience with that kind of scheme before.

“I’ve seen every kind of check scheme and scam out there,” Chandler said. “It’s been about two years since these things started showing up. We’ve
had more than 100 bad checks presented to us in the last couple of years. I think we’ve probably cashed about three of them.

“Now any check that comes in, cashier or bank check, they have to be referred either to me or the store manager.”

Whether he cashes them or not, Chandler makes copies of the bogus checks for future reference to employees or law enforcement. The most
recent scam of which he has become aware involves counterfeit checks and money orders.

He explained that he has been presented with several counterfeit money orders bearing a legitimate Wal-Mart account number, but with the wrong
amount or name. Wal-Mart refused to discuss the matter, but Chandler explained further.

“They will use the logo of a local company and might even have a legitimate account number but when we check further, everything else on the
check or money order will be wrong,” Chandler said. “And some of these checks are being sent to people here from elsewhere. We get them from
the United Kingdom, South America, South Africa, Ireland, everywhere.”

“We’ve also gotten postal money orders that were counterfeit,” he said. One person came in with about nine postal money orders and “When we
called and checked, the money orders were purchased for $10 but he had put $900 on them. He had to keep it below $1,000.”

Chandler related the story of another woman who, like the lottery winner, was victimized by a similar scam.

“She thought she had really won the money and when we checked with the bank the check was drawn on, we got the OK to cash it,” he said. “We
were told it was a legitimate account. But as it turned out, the company name was wrong and we got the check back saying it was counterfeit. So
she had to be responsible for getting us our money back. She was one of our regular customers and was very cooperative.”

Lt. Becky Whitman of the Orangeburg Department of Public Safety White Collar Crime Unit said these scams are sometimes difficult for local law
enforcement to stop because they often involve out-of-state jurisdictions and cross international borders.

Whitman said crimes dealing with money are on the rise because of the widespread use of computer technology. People can use various kinds of
searches to obtain personal information which they then use to perpetrate their scams. And because of technology, they don’t have to operate from
a local site.

Tina Bowman, center manager of ACE Cash Express on John C. Calhoun Drive, has also seen her share of bogus checks. She, like Chandler, has
noticed an increase in bogus checks and money orders in the last two years.

“But we’ve never cashed one,” Bowman said. “I’ve been working here for a while and I know my checks. We’ve had them come in and present us
with a check drawn on a bank in Canada or somewhere in England or Ireland. That’s always a red flag for us. We just don’t have that many people
in Orangeburg with international holdings who need to come to a check-cashing place.”

Bowman warns people who receive checks for unknown reasons to contact law enforcement and ignore the possibility of getting something for

“I’m not going to send money for you to receive money,” she said. “If you haven’t bought a ticket, chances are, you haven’t won the lottery.”

Like Bowman, Chandler’s advice is to ignore any checks or money orders that are sent to you as prize winnings if you don’t know where they’re
coming from.

“There is no free ride,” Chandler said. “If you haven’t somehow invested, you’re not going reap any benefits. The only thing money like that can get
you is trouble. Don’t fall for it.”

-- T&D Staff Writer Thomas Brown can be reached by e-mail at tbrown@timesanddemocrat.com or by phone at 803-533-5532. Discuss this and
other stories online at TheTandD.com.
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