When Laurie Arbaugh received a check for $1,989.76 in the mail last week as part of a part-time job invitation, she knew something was wrong.
She hadn't applied for the job, so how did she get it?
As it turns out, the check, and letter that accompanied it explaining the offer, was one of many scams aimed at taking advantage of a tough economy by offering exorbitant profits in exchange for minor services.
"I got that letter and that check, and was like, ain't no way," said Arbaugh, 51, of Ninth Street, Williamstown.
Since the letter came from Canada and didn't have a return address, Arbaugh was suspicious from the second she received it, she said. The envelope also had her name misspelled, and she had seen a similar case on TV a few days prior.
"There was definitely a lot of red flags, but Judge Judy was one of them," Arbaugh laughed.
Tips to avoid scams
Never wire money to anyone.
Check any letters you receive claiming to offer money in exchange for your services for spelling and grammatical errors.
When buying or selling on eBay, do not use a payment source outside of Paypal.
If you receive an item that has been ordered by a recently deceased relative, check with your phone company and credit card company to make sure they actually ordered it.
Ask for references for anyone doing work on your home and check those references.
Source: Washington County Sheriff Sgt. Det. Scott Parks.
The check that Arbaugh received carried the masthead of Texas Health Care P.L.L.C., but the letter that accompanied it was from Excavations Union, INC., located in Jacksboro, Tenn.
Texas Health Care P.L.L.C. is a multi-specialty physician group based in Fort Worth, Texas, that has a membership of 140 physicians, according to its website.
Officials at Texas Health Care said they were aware of the scam, and that it is not related to their organization.
Barbara Brown, controller with Texas Health Care, said the company has seen some of the checks related to the scam attempt to be cashed.
"We have appropriate measures set up with our bank," Brown said. "Those measures are appropriately catching and kicking all of the checks that unfortunately many people, unlike the resident in (this) area, have taken to their banks and deposited."
Calls by The Marietta Times to the phone number listed on the website for Excavations Union Inc., which is described as a company focused on customer service and compliance issues through undercover shopping, were answered by a man who identified himself as Andy. When asked for details of the company and where it was located, he hung up.
The discrepancy between the name on the check and the letter is one of several things area residents should check for when looking to see if a check is a fraud, said Washington County Sheriff Sgt. Det. Scott Parks.
Misspellings and grammatical errors are also indicators. Arbaugh's letter contained the phrase "follow the guild lines" instead of "follow the guidelines."
But those discrepancies could easily be overlooked by a non-suspicious eye.
"That one's not bad, usually there's all kinds of stuff misspelled," Parks said, referring to the letter Arbaugh received.
Ultimately, the letter Arbaugh received was designed to have her evaluate the Western Union transfer service to the sum of $1,510, which she was to send to an undercover agent of the company. She was also supposed to evaluate one of several stores, such as Walmart, JC Penney or Pizza Hut.
The check she received was to cover the expenses she incurred in those evaluations plus offer compensation, the letter says.
"They're giving you money right off the bat and you haven't even started working yet," noted Marietta Police Patrolman Rhett Walters.
To Arbaugh, the whole thing seemed too good to be true, and she worries about those in a tough economy who might not think about receiving money for a job they didn't apply for.
"It's bad because people need money," Arbaugh said. "What they're doing, they're going after desperate people. That's shameful."
The scam, which is often referred to by police as an advance fee fraud or Nigerian 419 scam, takes advantage of the float of a check, Parks said.
For a bank to confirm the authenticity of a check usually requires a couple days. By putting the account number of a legitimate company such as Texas Health Care on the check, the scam artist is bypassing the initial security checks by the bank when the check is cashed.
The initial inquiry shows there is an account with sufficient funds in it to cover the check, but later it is discovered the account was compromised and the company did not issue that check, Parks explained.
The scam artist is hoping for the victim to cash the check and wire the money prior to the con being discovered by the bank, he said.
"Basically all this is, is a very well camouflaged way to get you to send them money," Parks said.
Along with check scams, other fraudulent activities aimed at area residents include bank account and ordering cons.
Walters said several area residents have been victims of bank scams, where a con artist will call a resident on the phone claiming to be a representative of their bank.
The scam artist will then say that the victim's bank account has been compromised, and ask for data such as name, address, Social Security Number and account number to confirm what they have on record, Walters explained.
In those situations, Walters said residents should remember that banks will not ask for information it already has on file.
"Anything that involves your own personal account information you will initiate, not the bank," Walters said.
Another sham growing in popularity involves deceiving those who have recently lost loved ones.
Some hustlers will look through the obituaries of local newspapers, and then send a cheap item such as a Bible to the address of the deceased. The idea is to claim that the person who recently passed away ordered the item without paying for it, and get the family of the deceased to purchase it at a highly inflated price as a memento, Parks said.
Just like variations on the check schemes, there are also different types of ordering cons.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office once had a woman call to inform them she had been approached about serving as a tractor salesman online.
All that was required was to post pictures of the tractors on eBay and handle the transaction details. She would receive payment from the buyer for the tractor and then forward those funds, less a 5 percent profit for herself, on to the seller, Parks said.
In actuality, the buyer and seller were working together on the scheme using compromised bank accounts to pay for tractors that did not exist. The woman was then left as the target of any criminal investigation since she cashed the checks, Parks explained.
"If it can be scammed, they will find a way," Parks said.
The Marietta Police Department recently saw a similar scam, where a Marietta man was befriended by a foreign woman claiming to be working on a struggling family business, Walters said.
The woman was purchasing computer equipment for the business, but needed someone in the United States to receive the equipment and ship it to the business.
Instead of a legitimate business, the woman was using the victim to receive office equipment purchased from a forged account. Since he signed for receipt of the technology from a company such as Hewlett Packard, the victim was then responsible.
"Don't get yourself caught up as the middle person, because then you become part of that crime," Walters said.