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Oxford senior warns of sweepstakes scam



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Oxford resident Marjorie Moore, 87, is warning others of a check scam. Photo by CJC. (click for larger version)
May 09, 2012 - A lot of scam artists prey on senior citizens because they think they're vulnerable, weak and easily tricked by their elaborate schemes and cunning lies.

But that's not the case with Marjorie Moore.

Not only did the 87-year-old Oxford Township resident avoid being swindled, she's fighting back by informing others to beware of checks they receive in their mailboxes.

"I want people to know about it because there's so many people my age who don't realize what's going on and they get duped," she said. "I think it's absolutely terrible that they try to take advantage of the older people. There's so many people my age whose minds are not good.

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"I'm almost 88 and I thank the good Lord that I've still got a good mind and know what's going on. But there's a lot of others that don't and they get taken advantage of."

Moore, who's lived in Oxford since 1949, recently received a letter from a person named John Cain claiming she was the winner of a "lump sum payout" of $500,000 through a Reader's Digest sweepstakes. Enclosed with the letter was a Chase Bank check for $2,685, although there's no explanation as to why the two amounts differed so greatly.

"I've entered their sweepstakes before, so at first, I thought it was the real thing," Moore said.

In order to collect her prize, the letter "advised" Moore "to keep this award confidential until your claim has been processed" and "required" her to contact a person named Betty Scott, for whom no title or position was listed.

"To activate your claim before you deposit this check in your bank account, this is important," the letter stated.

When Moore called the phone number provided in the letter as Scott's contact information, all she ever got was a busy signal as did this reporter when he called.

She didn't quite understand why she had to call someone in order to cash a check for money she had supposedly won.

Based on similar scams, had Moore gotten a hold of this Scott, she more than likely would have been told to cash the check and send all or a portion of the money back to cover taxes, fees or some other type of costs associated with winning this prize.

Moore grew skeptical of the letter's authenticity for a variety of reasons. The envelope it came in did not bear any return address or even the Reader's Digest logo. The letter itself contained a number of spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors.

Moore decided to take the check to the nearest Chase Bank to see if it was valid and could be cashed.

The check itself looked so authentic that the teller was ready to process it until Moore said, "I hope it's good."

"I said, 'I don't know if it's any good or not.' I said, 'If it's good, I want it. But if it's no good, I don't want it.'"

When Moore explained the circumstances to the teller, the check was examined more closely by other bank personnel and it was determined that the account number it bore did not exist, so it was not valid.

"I've showed (the check) to a lot of different people and they've all said it really looks real," she noted. "(A Chase Bank employee) told me this is almost identical to their checks . . . I think people should be aware because it looks so real. When I first saw it, I said, 'Oh, boy!'"

So, how does this type of check scam typically work?

"It all starts when someone gives you a realistic-looking check or money order and asks you to send cash somewhere in return," according to the website www.fakechecks.org. "It's phony, and so is the person's story, but that may take weeks to discover. Now, your bank wants the money back . . . Ultimately, you are responsible for the checks or money orders you deposit or cash."

The scam victim is responsible because they're "in the best position to determine the risk of accepting the check or money order – you dealt with the person who gave it to you."

"Banks, credit unions and check cashing services accept checks and money orders based on your identification. They don't have any information about the source," the website stated.

Just because a person receives cash for it, doesn't mean a check or money order is any good.

"Federal law requires banks and credit unions to make the funds you deposit available quickly, usually within five days, depending on the type of check or money order," according to www.fakechecks.org. "It can take weeks, even months, for counterfeits to be discovered."

It takes so long because the check or money order has to go back to the source. If a check seems to come from a business account, the business may not learn about it until it appears on its next bank statement.

It's not always easy to identify counterfeit checks simply by looking at them.

In fact, it can be quite difficult.

"These phony checks and money orders are so realistic-looking that even bank tellers are fooled," according to www.fakechecks.org. "They may look like cashier's checks, checks from business accounts, money orders, and travelers or gift checks. The companies whose names appear on them may be real, but the checks have been dummied up without their knowledge.

"Even if you call the bank and learn that there is an account in the name of the person or company on a check, that doesn't mean it's valid. It's also tricky to confirm that a money order or a cashier's check is real, since the crook could have actually purchased one and made copies to distribute to victims."

Fortunately, expert help is available.

Two very reliable sources to help identify counterfeits are American Express Travelers Cheque & Gift Cheque Fraud and U.S. Postal Service Money Order Security.

Moore urged her fellow senior citizens to exercise extreme caution should they receive anything similar in the mail.

"I would advise them to make sure it's the real thing before they do anything else," she said. "Whatever you do, don't deposit it in your bank account or try to cash it until you know what it is.

"If I've got anything coming to me, I want it. But I don't want nothing that's not coming to me."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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