SCAMBUSTERS : Scammers who mail checks to local residents drawn on the accounts of other businesses for easy-money “quality of service” evaluations have turned up again in North Jersey. And one of the targets was a veteran of the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima who lives in Bergen County.
The scammer claims in the letter than its “online data source” has identified you as one of 5,700 candidates “interested in additional income,” starting at $300 a week.
It then “invites” you to evaluate customer service at various businesses, claiming that “mystery shopping” is “a tool used by market research companies to measure quality of retail service or gather specific information about products and services.”
A World War II veteran from Oakland recently got one of the checks, sent on letterhead produced by a legitimate company, BESTMARK of Minnetonka, MN, said former Bergen County Sheriff Leo McGuire.
McGuire, now a professor of criminal justice, said the envelope had no return address, as well as a postmark from Canada. The vet’s name and address were attached with a sticker, and the postmark was from Canada.
The letter lists a Gmail account and telephone number from South Central Ontario — not Minnesota. And the check itself is drawn on the Finance Center Federal Credit Union of Indiana.The scammer stole the ID of a company at this Minnesota office building
It said the recipient would be dispatched to two different spots, including — wouldn’t you know? — a WESTERN UNION office to evaluate customer service.
Yes, a business where money is wired.
And here’s where it gets slimey: The check you’re holding is drawn on the account of a legitimate business that has no idea what’s going on.
BESTMARK has been at it awhile. Complaints have been registered by victims on www.ripoffreport.com .
Last year, a New Jersey company whose bank account was being raided by scammers was able to block any future thefts following an investigation by CLIFFVIEW PILOT .
Scammers have used a variety of company names — among them, Infiniti Research Group and Lightspeed Research Inc. — in various cities. Recipients are directed to deposit the checks into their personal bank accounts before heading out to an audition for becoming a “quality of service” evaluator.
If they pass the audition, the recipients are told, they can keep a percentage of the money and send the rest back to the return address.
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 person they are told to call suggests they might as well wire the money right from there.
“It won’t be until the check bounces that you will realize you are on the hook for the full amount,” McGuire said.
On top of that, you’re stuck with fees and overdrafts.
“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.”
The address on the letter “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.
In the end, scambusting comes down to awareness. If you know this alre ady , t ell a friend or family member — particularly those who are elderly and live alone. Pass this story along. Spread the word…. If you’ve received a scam letter, please notify your nearest USPIS office, which can be done online. Or contact CLIFFVIEW PILOT
Times are tough. Work-from-home jobs are increasing. Since the dawn of the peanut, chiselers have played on human weakness.
“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.
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.
“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.”
Remember: Anyone who asks you to pay to obtain money or a benefit to which you’re rightfully entitled is trying to rip you off.
“Their only purpose is to easily purloin your hard-earned dollars,” McGuire said, “so be aware!”
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