Cape police receive scam complaints

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Amos Nelson was surprised to answer his phone Thursday only to be given a lecture.

"A guy calls up and starts right in by trying to tell me the difference between a grant and a loan. He said with a grant I don't have to pay the money back," said Nelson, 84.

But the caller was not interested in educating Nelson about personal finance, the caller was a scam artist.

The Cape Girardeau Police Department said it received three or four scam complaints Friday. Statewide, almost 90,000 complaints and questions regarding consumer fraud were addressed to the attorney general's office in 2005.

Nelson was not taken in by the ploy.

"He asked me if I'd like to have a $5,000 grant if I knew it wouldn't cost me anything. I said yeah, sure, most people would. But I knew where he was going. At the end of it he asked for me to give him the number to my bank or savings account and he would take out $250."

Nelson said he promptly hung up the phone.

Patricia Hayden, though, fell for it. She was solicited by mail with an offer that was too good to be true.

"It was in a regular envelope, and the letter said there was a check enclosed for $1,900. ... The check looked so real," she said.

The letter instructed her to go to the bank and deposit the enclosed cashier's check. Afterward she was asked to call the company's offices and mail the money to a location where it would be processed. She would then be credited with the whopping sum of $150,000, it said.

For Hayden the scam stopped at the bank when the teller was unable to process the check Friday. "She was having trouble entering the bar code in the computer and then they confirmed that it was a forgery," Hayden said.

Sgt. Barry Hovis of the Cape Girardeau Police Department believes that was a lucky break for Hayden. He said his department received two or three complaints of this scam Friday and fielded similar complaints in years past.

"If it seems too good to be true, it probably is," Hovis said. "But if you do deposit that money, you should never send that money until the bank confirms the check is real."

Hovis said these scams operate on the assumption that forged checks will pass muster for several days or even a month while the bank processes them. During this time the victim will send money to the location.

"I got lucky because I would have been out a lot of money," Hayden said.

John Fougere of Attorney General Jay Nixon's office said the key to prevention is to learn scam methods.

"It's so easy to protect yourself from these things if you train yourself and know what these types of scammers try to do," he said. "Good consumer education is priceless. Every time there is another story written it's a huge step in the right direction."

Fougere encouraged people unsure of the legitimacy of an offer to contact the Cape Girardeau Police Department and call the state consumer protection hot line at (800) 392-8222.

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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