Scam artists use economic instability to prey on people, police issue warnings
By DEB WUETHRICH and CRISTINA TRAPANI-SCOTT
The letters sound legitimate. The checks look real. A company with an official sounding name is sending you “final notice” that you have won a prize or are eligible to claim financial rewards. But they are scams — and scammers are picking up the pace in a down economy, hoping to dupe people into following up on the letters’ instructions.
Tecumseh Police Chief Mack Haun said scams are not new, they’re always out there, but people seem to be getting more letters telling them about their “winnings.”
“I’m afraid the worse the economy gets, the more of this stuff that’s going to crop up,” said Haun. “But don’t believe it when you get these unsolicited letters or phone calls. Nobody is sending you money for nothing. It doesn’t happen, unless it’s your rich uncle, and you know him.”
Haun recently investigated a letter brought in by a Tecumseh resident. It was from “Shoppers Link Financial Awards,” and called an “Award claim notification.” The mailing included a check for $4,875 issued from the J.P. Morgan Chase Bank in Columbus, Ohio. Haun could see some clues in the letter, which he said are always there as red flags, and wanted to see what the bank had to add regarding the check.
“They can tell right away that they aren’t real checks, even if they look real to the rest of us,” Haun said. Certain numbers on the check have to match up with the routing numbers, and in the check he showed, numbers were at the wrong end of the string, for instance. He said some of the red flags in the letter include lines such as “many unsuccessful attempts have been made” to reach the recipient, when this is the first they will have heard of it; that recipients may claim their prize, but first, must pay taxes on the prize money. They then leave a number to call with a “personal representative” to contact.
“Even when you play on a game show, you have to pay taxes on what you win, but, it’s either withheld legitimately, or you have to declare it and then pay the taxes,” said Haun. On the resident’s letter, the “claim analyst” was Pamela Bishop, whom Haun tried to locate.
“Of course, I couldn’t get her personally, I got a recording to leave a message. When she calls you back, what Pamela is going to try to wiggle out of you is your bank account number or credit card number. And instead of them giving you money, you are going to be giving them money, that’s the way it works.”
Tecumseh residents Elmer and Barbara Dittmer also received a notice and a check, theirs from Greenwich Securities in Morriston, Ontario, Canada, showing that they’d been declared winners of a “shoppers sweepstakes.” Barbara called the phone number on the letter to inquire what the letter meant and spoke with a person claiming to be the man named in the letter. She said she was told the check was to cover the taxes on the $250,000 the letter was claiming her husband had won. She took it to her bank to have them examine the check and the bank confirmed the check to be bogus. “Basically, if it sounds too good to be true, it’s usually not true,” said Barbara.
The check, purportedly $4,980, that she received from Greenwich Securities has the Wells Fargo Bank name on it, and Barbara said that she worries people might mistake it for a legitimate check. “I just want people to know that you can’t really tell it from a regular normal check,” she said.
A woman in Grayling, Michigan, reported on Ripoffreport.com that her husband had received a similar letter and check from Greenwich Securities. She writes that she was tipped off to the scam because it claims the selection for the sweepstakes is through a random computer ballot system. In the report, she stated her husband does not use the computer. She also questioned the discrepancy in addresses for Greenwich Securities on the letterhead and on the check. There are several such sites on the Internet to learn more about scams being perpetrated.
Another type of mail that people should be wary of are those containing small checks that look like maybe it’s a small rebate from an overpayment on a utility or some other service. With these, cashing the check can lock the person into a contract, such as one that offers an expensive insurance policy the check-casher is then responsible for. As Chief Haun notes, people should be aware of anything that comes unsolicited, even if they have signed up for rewards programs at a retail store, which are real.
“You know when you are participating in something like that,” he said, reinforcing the fact that people need to remain wary of unsolicited mail. He admits that people can be especially vulnerable as the economy worsens.
“People want to believe it,” said Haun. “They do. But don’t. It’s not true!”