Mainers warned about fake-check scam

Posted Aug. 19, 2009, at 8:51 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Better Business Bureau is warning people to watch out for fake-check scams, which it says have resulted in the theft of billions of dollars in the United States.

The Better Business Bureau, based in Natick, Mass., and serving several New England states, warned in a press release this week that three check scams are now prevalent. It warned consumers to be wary of special deals offered by people they don’t know. Scams involving fake checks typically call for the victim to deposit a check into a bank account and then wire money back to the scammers, the press release said.

June Parent, senior vice president and retail banking manager for Camden National Bank in Maine, said her bank frequently hears of check scams.

“We see it weekly, in one form or another,” she said Wednesday.

Greg Dufour, the bank’s president and CEO, said the bank has seen an increase “in various types of check scams over the past several years.”

“The fraudsters have gotten very smart,” Parent said. “It also appears that they’re a little more organized. It’s very hard to track down where some of the counterfeit and fraudulent activities are coming from.”

According to Yellow Light Breen, senior vice president at Bangor Savings Bank, although Bangor Savings has not seen a dramatic increase in customers being scammed, the scammers are persistent.

“These things just keep coming back,” he said. “Frankly I wouldn’t say there’s a huge uptick. Every couple of months there’s an incident.”

Kate Simmons, special assistant to Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, said the overpayment scam is something her office has dealt with in the past.

“We see these scams a lot,” she said “It’s a Nigerian scam that comes up in all sorts of places. You name it — motorcycles, vacation rentals.”

Simmons said the state Attorney General’s Office usually forwards the Nigerian check scam cases to the U.S. State Department and the postal service, but prosecuting the scammers is difficult when the scheme originates in another country.

Both Parent and Dufour said Camden National tries to cut off check scams at the teller window.

“What the bank typically does is, we train our frontline staff to watch out for those things,” said Dufour. “We provide protection to our customers. In some cases we’ve had experiences where our customers will come in with these scams and ask for a bank check to pay that back.”

When someone comes in to the bank with a check that looks odd or is an unusual amount for that customer, tellers will ask the customer questions to be sure it isn’t a fake check, Parent said.

“When we have any question on the check, we put a hold on it so they do not have access to the funds,” she said.

Customers who fall victim to scams and cash bad checks will be responsible to repay the amount taken, Parent said.

“Ultimately, if the check is no good and is returned to us, they are expected to pay it back,” she said. “We’re looking out for the customers’ best interest.”

The Better Business Bureau listed three scams in particular that consumers should look out for:

The Lottery or Government Grant Scheme, where victims receive a letter claiming they’ve won a lottery or qualified for a financial assistance grant. Included with the letter is a check for the partial amount of money. The victim is told to deposit the check and wire back as much as several thousand dollars to cover administrative fees or taxes. According to the BBB, in June a Nebraska woman lost $58,000 after being told she had won $11 million in the Jamaica Lottery.

The Mystery Shopping Scam, where the victim is told he will earn a few hundred dollars for evaluating businesses. The victim receives a letter with a check, detailed instructions and evaluation forms. The victim is told to deposit the check into his bank account and use the money to purchase items from specified stores and evaluate the customer service. The rest of the money is his to keep. Included in the list of stores to evaluate is Western Union or MoneyGram and the victim is told to wire as much as a couple thousand dollars back to the “employer,” and rate his experience.

The Overpayment Scam, where the victim selling an item through classifieds, Craigslist or eBay is paid by check, but the amount is much higher than the asking price. The buyer asks the victim to mail back the extra money before the check clears. Scammers sometimes ask the victim to wire the extra money to a fake shipping company.

For more information on the Better Business Bureau serving Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts, go to http://maine.bbb.org.

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