Advance Fee Fraud
Nigerian Counterfeit Check Advance Fee Fraud Victim
07/06 - Ethel Henderson was suspicious of the $7,850 check she got in the mail. The letter that came with it said she had won a lottery and the check was to help pay fees to a company in Sydney, Australia, that was holding her winnings.
She called the phone number in the letter and reached a man who said he was the company's "offshore senior president." He said she had won $20,000.
Henderson never cashed the check. If she had, it would have bounced, and the bank would have been after her to pay the money back. She never would have been paid $20,000.Jackson police say such scams - those that require people to pay advance fees to receive supposed winnings - are on the rise. A similar scheme, referred to as a Nigerian check-cashing scam or Nigerian letter scam, made the news this month when lawyers for Mary Winkler, who is accused of killing her husband, said she was a victim of a Nigerian-type scam. Winkler's husband, Matthew, was the pastor of Fourth Street Church of Christ in Selmer.
A lucrative scamIt's estimated that losses from the Nigerian letter scam alone total more than $1 million a day in the United States, according to the Web site crimes-of-persuasion.com.
"Not all counterfeit checks are Nigerian in origin," said Lt. Randy Lampley, who works in the Jackson Police Department's financial crimes unit. "The programs to make checks are available at most businesses that sell accounting software. The scam checks, including the Nigerian-based checks, usually follow patterns such as a lottery win, Internet prize, etc. "
The checks people receive are usually offered as advances on winnings to pay for such things as taxes, fees or insurance, Lampley said. People are usually instructed to send their payments by wire to Canada, he said.
How the Nigerian advance fee fraud scam worksThe Nigerian letter scam has run since at least 1989, according to Scamwatch, a Web site sponsored by the New Zealand Ministry of Consumer Affairs to warn consumers of such scams.
Potential victims get a letter, e-mail or fax from a person purporting to be a Nigerian or a foreign government official. The sender solicits the potential victim's help in placing large sums of money in overseas bank accounts, according to www.IC3.gov, a Web site hosted by the FBI and the White Collar Crime Center. In exchange for that help, the sender promises to share a percentage of the money, the Web site said.
Those running the con ask for money they say is for taxes, bribes or legal fees, all the while promising to pay back the expenses as soon as the funds are transferred.
Potential victims also are asked to fax their letterhead and other identifying information, such as their bank name and account number, as part of the Nigerian letter scheme.
"The documentation you receive ... it's going to look official," said Chad French, an investigator with the Jackson Police Department. "It might have the country's stamp or seal, and it will sound official, but it's really just a fraud."
Victims foot the billLampley said Jackson's Express Check Cashing on Highland Avenue refers many such fraudulent check cases to the Police Department. That's because many people know the company offers a service of verifying the authenticity of checks.
"We can determine for them whether they are legitimate," said Express Check's Pat Wheeler.
Henderson took the $7,850 check she got this year to Wheeler, who confirmed it was no good. Customers have brought in about $100,000 in fraudulent checks this year, Wheeler said.
Express Check turns the bad checks over to police so the check holders don't try to cash them elsewhere, Wheeler said.
Express Check started scrutinizing checks more closely after the company was fooled by a fraudulent check for $4,650, Wheeler said. The company has learned it must do more than call the number on the check to verify it because some scammers are waiting on the other end of the line, Wheeler said. The company now calls the bank the check was supposedly drawn on and tries to verify the check through the company whose name is on the check.
The customer with the bad check for $4,650 is now paying back Express Check in monthly installments of $300. The woman had returned some of the money to the scammers to pay for fees on what she thought was a lottery payout.
The woman declined to talk to The Jackson Sun.
An embarrassing crimeFrench said there are probably more victims than police know because some people are too embarrassed or ashamed to report they've been scammed. He spoke of an elderly woman who didn't want to talk to police after she fell victim to a scam. Her son reported the crime. Lampley said the woman wired $10,000 to Canada on some type of prize-winning scam.
"People don't realize if you don't play the lottery, you don't win," Lampley said.
Still, a wide range of people fall for such scams. "They appear to prey on the elderly more often, but anyone potentially could be a victim because all a scammer wants is your money," French said. "They don't care about your age or race."
There's little police can do for those who lose money.
"It's very difficult to recover money once it goes out of the country, especially to Nigeria, because Nigeria doesn't work with the U.S. on the apprehension of the suspects," French said.