Shelly from Toston (who didn’t want her last name
published for privacy reasons) smiled at first when she opened her
mail. A sweepstakes notice appeared, and the enclosed $3,800
cashier’s check sure looked good.
But Shelly smelled something fishy, so she looked a little closer.
The telephone number she was supposed to call for instructions on
how to send in a fee to collect the rest of her “winnings” had a
Canadian area code. So she got on the Internet and did some more
Sure enough, the sweepstakes was a scam.
“Thank God I have half a brain,” she said. She didn’t deposit the
check and didn’t follow the directions for claiming the rest of her
Shelly was glad she didn’t fall for the trick, but sounded
disappointed that the money wasn’t real.
“The holidays are coming up, I’ve got bills to pay. That money sure
would have come in handy,” she said ruefully, underscoring how easy
it would be for people for whom money is tight to fall for a scam
because they want so badly to believe it’s true.
Jen Carlson, operations and bank security officer at American
Federal Savings Bank, said that the money order scam is one of the
most common, but with printing and Internet technology improving
each year, the scams are getting more sophisticated and difficult to
In addition to mail scams, Carlson said bank customers are also
being scammed on the Internet — not only through “phishing” e-mails,
which look like they’re coming from reputable Web sites, but in chat
rooms and dating service sites as well.
“It’s usually someone with a hard-luck story,” she said. “They will
get a relationship going with this person, and pretty soon they’re
asking for money.”
Carlson offered several several tips for consumers to protect
themselves. In addition to the obvious — don’t respond to lottery
letters when you know you didn’t enter a lottery, and don’t give out
any personal information — she said there are other steps people can
take to avoid losing money or having a run-in with identity theft.
“Buy a shredder, and shred any papers that have personal information
on them,” she said. “On your computer, make sure you install the
latest and best firewall protection you can get.”
Other tips from Carlson: opt out of credit card solicitations in the
mail; add your name to the federal Do Not Call list for
telemarketers and once a year get copies of your credit reports free
of charge from the three major reporting companies through
“Even if you’re not necessarily worried about being a victim of
identity theft, it’s a good idea to know what’s in your credit
report, so if there are mistakes, you can fix them,” she said.
As America heads into the giving season, many scam artists prey on
people’s generosity, according to the Montana attorney general’s
office. Mike McGrath said one way Montanans can make sure their
money is going where they think it is is to give to a local
organization, rather than respond to something that appears to be a
Other tips from McGrath’s office include:
Be wary of appeals for money that play on emotions, including pleas
to help children or to give money to causes recently in the news,
like earthquake, hurricane or tsunami victims.
If a telephone solicitor doesn’t offer it, ask for a phone number
and physical address of the charity, and do some homework before
making a donation. Call the charity to ask if it has authorized the
solicitation — but be cautious; anyone with a phone can pretend to
be a charity.
Ask if the solicitor is a paid fundraiser or a volunteer, and ask
what percentage of the donation goes to the cause and what
percentage goes to administration expenses.
Instead of giving a credit card or bank account number, write a
check and put it in the mail. Also, don’t pay with cash, as it’s
easily stolen and harder to document for both fraud and tax
If the solicitor claims the money will help local organizations,
contact the organizations separately to see if they authorized the
Don’t be pressured into making a fast donation. A reputable charity
will be just as grateful for a donation tomorrow as it is today,
while a scammer may pressure people into giving immediately.
By JOHN HARRINGTON - IR Business Editor - 11/26/06 can be reached at
447-4080 or firstname.lastname@example.org