Scammed? The police want to know.
By ANNMARIE TIMMINS
March 29, 2008 - 12:00 am
From 'Concord Monitor'
The checks - from Citizens Bank, CVS and the Navy Federal Credit Union - looked real. And too many people thought they were. But the police say the pitch should have been a dead giveaway.
You advertise an apartment online and someone responds. They send a check for the first month's rent and security deposit, as promised, but the check is for more than you asked. The new tenant can explain.
His company, he tells you, is relocating him and accidentally included his moving expenses in the rental check. Would you mind wiring the difference back to him in a money order? Don't. The check is a phony, and you'll be out the cost of the money order.
But if you already have, the authorities want to know.
"One of the bigger reasons people don't come forward is that they are embarrassed about being victimized," said Trooper Detective John Marasco. "We need victims to come forward."
Yesterday, the state police and federal authorities explained how they traced a $5 to $10 million Nigerian-based scam to a married couple in Concord. With the news media gathered, they made their bigger point: They hope scammed victims will contact them with information about where they sent those money orders.
"Millions and millions of dollars every year are getting sucked out of the U.S. economy and sent overseas," said U.S. District Attorney Thomas Colantuono. His office in Concord takes several complaints a month, he said.
These "advanced fee" scams are especially hard to crack because the culprits are spread throughout the world and take cover under phony online identifies and e-mail addresses. The state police got luckier than many investigative agencies when the culprits made an error.
The state police received a complaint from a local company in October 2007 that found itself charged for shipments from a courier service it had never made. With the cooperation of the company and the currier service, the police tracked down the suspect shipments, Marasco said.
One of those shipments had an e-mail address that led the police to a local couple, Marasco said. They'd erred by accidentally putting their e-mail on a package the police confiscated.
Marasco said investigators discovered that the couple, whom he has declined to name, were a "tentacle" of a Nigerian-based scam and had been so for nearly two years. Each month, the couple received a bundle of phony checks and instructions on whom they should send them to. The information came to them from a middle man, and the recipients were people who had been targeted because they'd been selling or renting something online.
Once they'd addressed the envelopes and tucked the phony checks inside, the couple conducted a second scam, the police said. Rather than pay for postage themselves, they billed postage to randomly selected companies. They pulled it off by scheduling the shipments online though courier services, using someone else's billing address and a phony e-mail address.
Anyone who received a phony check wired money back as requested was scammed. Marasco doesn't know how many did, but he suspects it was a lot.
Marasco declined to say anything yesterday about how or how much the Concord couple was paid for their services. Nor would he say whether they are cooperating with authorities or could face criminal charges. He said there are "tentacles" all over the country and many connect with the scam by replying to job advertisements that allow them to "work from home."
The police have already begun to hear from victims but hope to hear from more. They are asking victims to save any e-mail correspondence they had with scammers and the names and addresses of where they wired money orders.
*What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.*