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Check scam targets North Kitsap residents

POULSBO — The check isn’t in the mail, especially if you aren’t expecting it, Detective Grant Romaine is warning North Kitsap residents this week.

That’s because a new cashier’s check scam is hoping to bilk locals out of their money.

Three North Kitsap residents, one living inside the Poulsbo city limits, have received “Advance Fee Fraud” letters in the mail in the last month. Romaine said this is a large number to see in such a short time period and he’s concerned that the scam will continue growing.

“People are going to be suckered in by something like this — big time,” Romaine commented.

The fraud includes two different letters, both containing checks. One claims that the recipient has gotten an insurance settlement from an asbestos lawsuit. The other insists that the individual has won an Australian lottery. Romaine said the ones he’s seen contained cashier’s checks made out to the recipient for amounts of $4,500 to $15,000 that the letter refers to as a “good will” payment.

The official-looking letters promise the person lottery winnings or an insurance settlement totalling between $500,000 and more than $1 million. All the recipient has to do is deposit the check in their bank account and return part of it to the letter sender, as a processing fee, within a certain amount of time. In the case of the $15,000 check, the letter instructed the individual to send $10,000 back and keep $5,000 and the balance of the winnings would be paid later.

“These kinds of scams have people thinking they’ve come into some really good luck,” Romaine said.

The only problem is, it’s not real.

Though the cashier’s check is drafted from a legitimate bank account, it is counterfeit. Romaine said most people deposit the check and withdraw the amount to be sent back before waiting for the check to fully clear. Once the fake check is sent back, it’s too late to reverse the problem.

“If you’ve already sent that money out, there’s no way for the post office to get it back,” Romaine explained. “Then your bank has on record that your account is overdrawn and you have to pay the money back.”

One of the three recent victims in North Kitsap lost $10,000 to the scam artists.

Such attempts are sometimes called Nigerian Schemes, after scams that took place over the Internet, FAX and by letter by people claiming to be from the Nigerian government. Those frauds were estimated to have defrauded individuals out of about $5 billion from 1980 to 1996.

Australian police recently arrested an individual in an “Advance Fee Fraud” case who had made $16 million by the time authorities caught up with him. Romaine said the people responsible for these local letters are definitely from overseas, making it harder to prosecute, however, he’s still trying to establish how the victims are being chosen.

“I think it’s people who sign up a lot for magazines or contests or who do other countries’ lotteries over the Internet,” Romaine said.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service notes that it is illegal for U.S. citizens participate in foreign lotteries.

One of the easiest ways for folks to spot these counterfeits is to look at the postmark and then the return address. In most cases, the postmark will be from Canada and the return address will be in Australia or some other overseas location.

Romaine has been working closely with the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Postal Inspectors to document locals who receive these letters. He said even if an individual receives such a letter and does not fall for the scam, he wants to make a report of the incident because a crime was attempted. Further, documenting all of the cases in Kitsap County may lead to an arrest.

But most of all, Romaine said he wants community members to be vigilant. He suggests people carefully consider offers contained in unsolicited mail and trust their gut instincts. A Poulsbo resident who received a letter from the scam artists offering a large insurance settlement — had an attorney check it out first and was told to take the letter to the police.

“People don’t really think of it being a scam if there’s a check made out to them,” Romaine said. “You know the old adage that if it seems to good to be true it is? Well that goes double if you get a letter with a check in it.”

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