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Manitowoc man falls for money order scam

Credit union official concerned more individuals will get scammed.

MANITOWOC — UnitedOne Credit Union wants “Jack Richards” to pay up, about $2,700 by Wednesday.

Otherwise, the credit union may take the Lakeshore-area man, in his 20s with a wife and child, to small claims court.

In retrospect, Richards — not his real name but with a real story — realizes he shouldn’t have been gullible, greedy or naïve when he received an e-mail promising him a 10 percent cut.

All he had to do was cash money orders and forward 90 percent on to the company that hired him, via e-mail, to serve as their “payment representative.”

Manitowoc Police Department Lt. Paul Schermetzler’s “Scam File” just keeps getting thicker.

UnitedOne’s Tammy Pelletier, vice president of operations, said her credit union in cases like this is a victim, too. “And with the economy the way it is, scams will be on the rise,” she said.

One thing the scammed man, the cop and the credit union manager all agree on, and said, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

‘I needed extra money’

“Part Time Job Offer” was the heading on the e-mail Richards received in early December from T&N Fabrics Textile in London.

The Manitowoc man had been looking on the Internet for opportunities to supplement his regular earnings.

He had been off work for several months, with medical bills, a wife and a child to think about.

“I needed extra money, like everybody else in this world,” Richards recalled.

“I would like to offer you a part-time job as our payment representative with which you can earn twice your monthly salary depending on your speed, accuracy and devotion to your work,” trumpeted Steve Moore in the e-mail Richards received.

Moore said he was the chief executive officer of one of the biggest and most successful textile and fabrics companies in the United Kingdom.

Moore told Richards they needed a representative to cash checks “in a timely fashion” from its U.S. customers.

He told Richards, “Receive payments on behalf of the company, cash the payments in your bank, deduct your 10 percent commission and forward the balance …”

It seemed logical and an easy way to make money for his family, so Richards agreed to serve as a payment representative.

It wasn’t more than a couple days before Richards received three money orders for $875.15 each. His cut would be $262 for forwarding about $2,350 on to an address in Nigeria.

Richards put the money orders in the tube in United-One’s drive-through lane, said the teller appeared to look at an authenticating watermark, received the cash, went to a Western Union location and put an international money order in an envelope, headed for Ikeja, Nigeria.

The next day eight more money orders arrived, again all of them for $875.15. “This time, when I tried to cash them the teller told me they were fake.

“I jumped to the conclusion the first three had probably been fake, as well … a good Christmas present, huh?”

Within a week, Richards said UnitedOne sent a letter telling him he needed to pay back the initial $2,625.45.

“I didn’t have it then, and don’t have it now,” Richards said last week.

He had opened the account when he was a teenager, with his father as the co-signer.

The father also has received a letter from UnitedOne. “We strongly encourage you to take care of your negative obligation … call to make arrangement for payments,” it reads.

‘Just not going to happen’

Schermetzler directs the community policing function in the police department. Richards’ case isn’t special, at all.

“A number of individuals come down here scammed out of $2,500, $3,000 off the Internet … with the scams from overseas or other parts of the country,” Schermetzler said.

“For us to use our resources, track down these individuals, it’s just not going to happen,” the lieutenant said. “People need to be aware of who they are dealing with … they are talking to a computer, not a real person.”

In his bulging scam folder are un-cashed checks, like the one for $2,800 payable to a Manitowoc woman for supposedly winning a foreign lottery, which are illegal for Americans to play, Schermetzler said.

The officer said individuals shouldn’t hesitate to visit him and check out the authenticity of the check or offer.

Schermetzler said unscrupulous individuals can buy check stock from office supplies stores and create financial documents appearing quite authentic, oftentimes using logos of national banks.

Identity theft scams can be via phone. “Be on your guard … if a bank or credit union calls you, they will never solicit personal financial information over the phone.

“They’ll never ask you for your computer passwords, personal identification numbers or Social Security number,” Schermetzler said.

He urges individuals to tell the caller, “Put me on the No-Call List … that way they know you are educated (about possible phone scams including identify theft). Then simply hang up,” Schermetzler said.

‘Don’t Get Ripped Off!’

Pelletier is concerned that many of her credit union members may underestimate the constant activity by scammers.

“We try to catch them … but that doesn’t trump his ultimate responsibility,” she said of Richards’ legal obligation to pay the credit union back for the three money orders he did cash.

Tellers at credit unions and banks go through extensive “Loss Prevention” training. This includes examining checks and money orders for required information.

But scammers issuing money orders and checks with security features similar to genuine documents can fool tellers.

That’s why UnitedOne has posted a flyer at its branches — “FBI Fraud Alert — Don’t Get Ripped Off!”

It lists 10 questions that if the credit union member or bank customer can answer “Yes” to should tip them off they might be involved in a fraud or are about to be scammed, including:


  •  Did you receive the check via an overnight delivery service? 


  •  Is the check connected to communicating with someone by e-mail? 


  •  Have you been instructed to either wire, send, or ship money, as soon as possible, to a large U.S. city, or another country, such as Canada, England or Nigeria? 


  •  Are you receiving pay or a commission for facilitating money transfers through your account? 

    In retrospect, Richards knows he would have answered all four questions, “Yes.”

    He vows he will repay the credit union, in full. “But it will take a long time,” Richards said.

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    March 3, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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