LAKEWOOD – Attorney General Rob McKenna warned Washington residents that con artists are becoming increasingly skilled at customizing their pitches. Residents of Lakewood, Washington, have been targeted twice in recent weeks for identity theft and financial fraud scams. The cases appear to be unrelated, but show how far criminals will go in order to convince someone to send money or provide personal information.
“Scammers are becoming increasingly more sophisticated in their schemes,” McKenna said. “They may initially appear genuine and nice. But often, when a potential victim refuses to fall for the scam, cons reveal their real personalities and become increasingly manipulative and even belligerent. Never wire money to a stranger. And don’t provide personal information requested in an e-mail or by an unsolicited caller.”
The Attorney General’s Office recently saw one of its most convincing “check overpayment” scams involving counterfeit checks and attempted wire transfer fraud. The scam began after a con artist sent an e-mail to a Lakewood music teacher on May 31, claiming to be an antique auctioneer seeking a flute instructor for her 11-year-old son.
The con apparently found the teacher’s e-mail address on the Web site of a music conservatory, where four years ago she posted an announcement that she was available to teach private lessons. After more than a month of exchanging e-mails with the scammer, the teacher realized the phony customer was only after her money.
The con, using the name “Tracy Stroller,” wrote, “My son Trevor suffered slight shock from the accident that my husband died in. It happened while we were on our yearly family vacation in the mountains of Billings Montana in 2006. I was informed that exposure and a change of environment could ease his ordeal mentally. We are currently in the Republic of Benin on an antique auction but Trevor will be coming over to SEATTLE before the 15th JULY and will stay as his godfather because we will both be staying there for 3months while he’s godfather is away (sic)…”
The message asks about the teacher’s qualifications and whether she will accept checks or money orders as payment. “Tracy Stoller” sent a follow-up email, stating, “if i decide to send you money order or a check from here it could fall in the wrong hands and take up to 21 days but within the states its much easier. (sic)”
The teacher replied that she would prefer a money order. Shortly thereafter, she received a package containing four money orders, each for $832 from someone named “David Collins.”
“Tracy Stroller” wrote again, asking the teacher to take the funds to her bank immediately and keep a portion as her payment plus an additional $200. She should then send the remainder by wire transfer to an address in New Jersey. The con claimed the extra money was needed to pay for Trevor’s airline ticket.
Someone then called the teacher at her home early on the Fourth of July and told her that she had to cash the checks immediately. She could hear other voices in the background. The teacher instead turned the checks over to the Attorney General’s Office.
McKenna said the con was probably calling from a “boiler room,” in which cons launch fraudulent telemarketing scams. He said the checks are no doubt counterfeit and that victims who fall for similar scams and send money by wire transfer usually have little recourse. When a deposited or cashed check bounces, the banks will hold that customer liable and deduct the funds from the victim’s account.
The teacher said she knows a local musician who received a similar solicitation by e-mail but did not respond.
Second Scam Targets Lakewood
McKenna also warned Washington residents to beware of unsolicited callers who claim to be with a government agency then ask for bank account information or other personal information.
A Lakewood woman notified the Attorney General’s Office after her husband received a call the night of July 12 from a man with a foreign accent who claimed to be with the Social Security Administration. The caller said the Lakewood man would receive $500 for six months because he had no criminal record and paid his taxes on time. The caller then asked for a bank account where he could deposit the money.
The Lakewood man recognized this was a scam and refused to provide any personal information. The caller then argued and swore at him.
Learn to Protect Yourself or Your Customers from Identity Theft
The Attorney General’s Office, AARP and the Federal Trade Commission recently launched GUARD IT! Washington to educate consumers and businesses how to guard against identity theft.
The statewide campaign includes free evening public forums, community shred events and luncheon presentations for business leaders where Attorney General Rob McKenna and other experts will provide advice and answer questions. To register for a public forum or learn more, visit the GUARD IT! Washington Web site at www.guarditwashington.com or call AARP toll-free at 1-800-646-2283. Business leaders interested in the noon presentations can find a list of events online or contact Janelle Guthrie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where to Report Fraud
- Federal TradeCommission: File a complaint online at www.ftc.gov or call toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).
- U.S. Postal Inspection Service (mail fraud): File a complaint online at http://www.usps.com/postalinspectors/fraud/welcome.htm or call toll-free 1-800-372-8347.
- FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center: File a complaint online at www.ic3.gov.
- Phonebusters, the Canadian anti-fraud call center: File a complaint online at www.phonebusters.com or call toll-free 1-888-495-8501.
- Washington Attorney General’s Office: File a complaint online at www.atg.wa.gov or call toll-free 1-800-551-4636 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays.
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Media Contact: Kristin Alexander, Media Relations Manager – Seattle, (206) 464-6432