Victim, credit union head warn of scams

Posted June 22, 2009, at 10:05 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Scammers are out there and they want your money.

Rachel White of Bangor learned that the hard way.

She is out more than $1,500 and wants to warn others never to trust a stranger who sends too much money.

Her financial institution, Brewer Federal Credit Union, also is warning its customers about scams aimed at fleecing their accounts.

“The credit union notes that its members have been targeted by both sophisticated and sometimes very simple attempts to defraud them,” a Monday press release stated.

Scam artists are sending checks to the credit union’s customers, including White, for items bought on Craigslist and other Internet sites, that are “in excess of the purchase price with a request to return the excess,” the press release states. Or they send a check and ask the customer to cash it for them.

“Inevitably these checks are returned either for insufficient funds or because they are fraudulent altogether,” the credit union states.

In White’s case, she sold a couch on Craigslist to a man who identified himself as Maxwell Benjamin who “accidentally” sent her a check for $1,500 instead of the $150 that he owed.

“The next day I received a frantic e-mail from Maxwell informing me that his company made a serious error in the printing of the check,” she said. “He begged me to send him back the difference as soon as I could and to please not take advantage of him.”

White, who describes herself as pretty aware of Internet and other scams, decided to go ahead and deposit the check.

“I thought if the check clears, I’m essentially in the clear,” she said. “That was my way of protecting myself. Everything looked totally legitimate. It looked like a real check.”

Eight days after depositing the check she called Brewer Federal Credit Union and was told the check had cleared. She took out the $1,350 “overpayment” and used Western Union, which cost her $89.99, to send the money to Maxwell.

“I deposited it at the end of May and I got a note in the mail on June 15” that said the check was fake and that her account was overdrawn, White said.

A very upset White called the credit union and police and was told basically that nothing could be done.

“They definitely have got it down to a science to make it untraceable for who is responsible,” she said.

Rick Kaul, Brewer Federal Credit Union president and CEO, explained in the press release that “today’s legal check hold requirements compel financial institutions to lift deposit holds on checks according to a rigorous but fairly short time schedule and when the checks must be cleared through several intermediary institutions, routine processing delays often allow fraudulent checks to remain undetected so that unsuspecting people take action which they very soon regret.”

“The laws governing negotiation of checks leaves the hapless victims of these schemes holding the bag,” Kaul said.

In addition to the check scams, others include solicitations from criminals that say a distant relative has died and a small fee is required to get the inheritance and others about lottery winnings that ask “for money to permit the release of greater funds,” he said.

White said she has accepted that she was conned, and just wants to warn others about how to protect themselves.

“It just blows my mind,” she said. “If anything can be learned by my mistakes … If I can help somebody avoid the stress, it’s worth it.”

nricker@bangordailynews.net

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