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Alert local couple avoids falling prey to scam

A simple plan to sell a television turned into a case for local law enforcement and the FBI.

Aiken residents Cliff and Jamie Cole posted an ad on Craigslist.com on Feb. 9 to sell a Hitachi 52-inch 2004 refurbished projection TV. The asking price was $600, to be paid by cashier’s check or money order and to be picked up in person at their residence.

A few days later, they received an e-mail from “Shelly” claiming to be from Las Vegas but currently traveling. The person requested the Coles to hold the television for two weeks until they could arrange for pick-up. The e-mail correspondence offered to send a $100 deposit to hold the television. 

The Coles agreed, telling the person to send a certified check; they didn’t hear anything for over a week until last Wednesday. The buyer sent an e-mail saying they dropped a check in the mail for the deposit. 

On Friday, the Coles received an unscheduled delivery. Tucked inside a UPS Next Day Air envelope was a check made out to Cliff Cole in the amount of $1,450. 

The Coles were immediately suspicious and started investigating the check’s legitimacy. First, they Googled Bridge Bank and DF Sales Co., because both names appeared on the check and were listed with addresses in San Jose, Calif. The business name checked out as an electronics company and the bank is an actual financial institution, making everything appear legitimate on first glance.

However, the Coles decided to make a few phone calls. Cliff Cole spoke with a man at DF Sales who told him several checks had been issued recently on an account that was closed a couple years ago. In addition, Cole contacted security at Bridge Bank and confirmed the account had been terminated.

The UPS envelope also revealed a few avenues the Coles investigated. The sender’s name appeared as Cappadonna Inc., which they discovered is a Texas-based business. UPS advised the Coles the package had been mailed from Las Vegas, which corresponded to the address provided by “Shelly.” A Google map search of “Shelly’s” address showed a substantial brick home near a school in Las Vegas. 

The Coles contacted Aiken Public Safety and a report was filed. On Saturday morning, “Shelly” made contact again. 

“I received a somewhat threatening e-mail from Shelly demanding payment via Western Union to Las Vegas, Nev.,” said Cliff. “Since the e-mail was somewhat threatening and demanding, and obviously a scam, I called Aiken Public Safety, who sent a uniformed officer to my house … (who) stated that the APS investigators will be making further inquiries. I have not and will not deposit the check.”

The Coles have also contacted the FBI in Columbia.

“The agent said this appeared to be a typical Nigerian scam and that sending money Western Union would allow the scammers to pick up the money in Nigeria. He requested that I go to http://www.ic3.gov and fill out a complaint form,” said Cole.

The biggest concern the Coles have is spreading the word so others don’t fall prey to similar scams. “We want others to be alert,” said Jamie. 

While the couple’s cautiousness prevented them from cashing the check, they still expect “Shelly” will send further e-mails with increasing threats. 

The case draws similarities to a recent “Secret Shopper” scam reported by Karen Daily in the Aiken Standard.

In that scam, the scammer mails a check and then requests the receiver to cash a portion of the money and wire the rest back to them via Western Union. The checks are fraudulent and, when the bank realizes this, the money in the victim’s account is frozen.

Police advise citizens to be careful of anyone seeking to give them money.

Anyone who has received similar correspondences is asked to visit http://www.ic3.gov and fill out a complaint form detailing the incident. In addition, the AARP keeps a list of scams and offers advice on what you should do if you think you have been, or might be, scammed. Visit http://www.aarp.org/money/wise_consumer/scams. 

A Nov. 25, edition of NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” discussed the latest generation of scams. To listen to the show, visit http://www.npr.org and search “Elderly Scammed by ‘Relatives’ Seeking Aid.” The program discusses evolving scams originating from Nigeria and Canada, and fetures callers sharing their firsthand experiencess. Many of the scams aren’t targeted strictly to the elderly; there are numerous phishing schemes, overpayment and check fraud scams.

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March 3, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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