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CLIFFVIEW PILOT busts ‘evaluator’ scam

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

SCAMBUSTERS : A New Jersey company whose bank account was being raided by scammers has blocked any future thefts, thanks to CLIFFVIEW PILOT. After we alerted them to the fraud, Heyco Products Inc. immediately stopped all suspicious checks, talked with bank officials, and put additional safeguards in place.


If only it were that easy to find the scammers themselves: Posing as customer service evaluators, the thieves have been mailing people bogus checks for $3,995 drawn on business accounts, including Heyco’s.

They then instruct the recipients to deposit the checks in their personal bank accounts and head to the nearest Western Union outlet to evaluate the “quality of service” there.

If they pass the audition, the accompanying letter says, they can keep $410 and send the rest back to the return address. They can then immediately begin work as evaluators, it says.

But here comes the twist: Since the victims went through all that trouble — depositing the check and finding a Western Union (which, curiously, is always within walking distance of their homes) — the voice on the other end suggests they might as well wire the money from there and keep the balance instead of having to schlep all the way back to the bank.

A man named Raymond from Middletown, Del., got taken that way:

“The check cleared and almost a week later, [Heyco] sent the check back to the bank, which caused fees, overdrafts and wiped my account of what was in there.”

The worst part is that Raymond is on the hook not only for the $410 but for the FULL AMOUNT OF THE CHECK. That’s nearly $4,000 that he will never see again.

And that’s one of the aspects of the scam that needs reinforcing to potential victims.

The other is the way the thieves go about their business.

“Western Union and other money transfer services are popular with scammers because they cannot be traced once the money is sent,” said Joshua Shandler of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.  “Most reputable businesses and transactions use a major credit card, Paypal, or bank wire transfer.”

CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM began investigating after Johnny DeCarlo of Wood-Ridge, who writes a column for the site, got one of the letters (See: You can fool some of the people… ). His, like Raymond’s, bore the return address:

Inter-State Marketing Ltd.
569 Rt. 100 North Unit #303
Bechtelsville, Pennsylvania 19505

A U.S. Postal Service manager confirmed for CLIFFVIEW PILOT that the specific address doesn’t exist. To be sure, federal postal inspectors out of New Jersey ran a back-up check that produced the same result.

There is a huge Wal-Mart in that block, but it has a different address.

“The local address gives an air of legitimacy,” Shandler said. “But it is usually a dead end…. Customers often feel they are protected because they have a physical address that they sent their money to, but it is in reality, just a façade.”

Besides, he said, “the address becomes irrelevant once you already find yourself at the Western Union.” Any money you wire is “long gone before the bank even catches on,” Shandler said.

Raymond learned this firsthand.

“This company is a scam and [there’s] nothing else to be said,” he wrote on www.ripoffreport.com . “I’m very upset at myself because I’m always on point, but this time, being in the position I’m in, I let down my guard.”

That’s why the come-on fits perfectly: Times are tough. Work-from-home jobs are increasing. Since the dawn of the peanut, chiselers have played on human weakness.

Unfortunately in Raymond’s case, “there is not much that could be done to the scammers,” Shandler said, “given the anonymity Western Union provides and their overseas location.”

They’re likely in Canada and out of reach of U.S. authorities, he said.

“Years ago the public became aware of the concentration of fraud scams originating out of Nigeria,” said Shandler, who is based in Newark. “The fraudsters then moved next door to Ghana, which didn’t ring the same alarm.”

Once the fraud stigma spread throughout West Africa, the low-lifes moved to Canada and to some countries in the Caribbean, especially those with lax banking and privacy laws.

“Canada has been especially popular due to its proximity to the U.S. and also the fact that Canadian phone numbers appears like ours on caller ID,” Shandler said.

What you should know: Your bank must accept any check you present for deposit, under federal law, if you have an account there. The bank, in turn, must release your funds within three days — but that doesn’t necessarily mean by then the check or money order has cleared. That means the bank, for all intents and purposes, has given you a line of credit for that amount.

“I have personally seen some very good counterfeit business checks that may take up to a month to eventually be detected by the original company whose identity was stolen,” Shandler said. “And by that time, the fraudsters have closed shop and opened another mail drop somewhere.

“And although the bank released the funds to you, YOU are ultimately responsible to cover a bad deposit,” he emphasized.

In this case, the scammers apparently used cheap check stock and a cheap printer to reproduce a Heyco check.

“It’s very common,” Shandler said. “Often they will use a an identity for a short time until the victim and public gets the alert.”

Heyco issued stop payments on all suspicious-looking checks and immediately consulted with bank officials after receiving word from CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM, according to Jackie Geddie of the company’s Accounts Payable Department.

The Toms River firm is checking its books to see how much it lost, she said in a phone interview.

“Thank you for the copy of the check and all that you are doing to help!” Geddie wrote, in a follow-up email. “We will keep you posted.”

As for average, everyday people, Shandler said, “Be skeptical about a job ad, classified ad response, eBay buyer, sweepstakes winning, or other monetary transaction.

“First of all: Are you being asked to pay or advance money when you are the one who should be receiving the money?  If so, it is likely a scam.  You should never have to pay to obtain some money or benefit to which you are rightfully entitled.”

Period.

If you’ve received a scam letter, please notify your nearest USPIS office, which can be done online. Or contact CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM and we’ll file the information for you.

“Every report goes into a fraud database where we can look for patterns, common evidence, etc.,” Shandler said. “Also, our Global Investigations team can look for anything pursuable.”

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