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Local woman avoids elaborate check scam

By Gheni_Platenburg
May 10, 2010 at 12:10 a.m.


Tips to prevent becoming a victim of this scam:

Conduct an online search of the bank named in the letter.

Call the bank to verify its phone number and physical address.

Verify the bank's escrow company and verify its phone number and physical address.

Check with local police to learn if this is a known scam

Remember: If you didn't enter it, then you can't win it.

Source: Victoria Police Department.

When Terry Zarbock received a letter informing her she won $55,000 from a promotional contest, she had mixed feelings.

"My true feeling was this can't be real," said the 58-year-old Victoria woman. "When I started reading it, I started thinking, 'Well, maybe it's real since it says Walmart and Kohl's, even though I never remembered either one saying anything about this.'"

Zarbock's first intuition was correct. She was the target of the latest scam circulating the Crossroads.

"If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is," said Victoria Police Sgt. Felix Appelt.

According to the notification letter, Zarbock was one of the winners of the UK & North America Consumer Promotion Draw. The letter informed her she was automatically entered into the draw with other customers of Walmart, K-Mart, Safeway and Kohl's, whose name was misspelled in the letter.

"It is unfortunate some people use the good name of reputable businesses for their own personal gain," said Dan Fogleman, Walmart spokesman. "Walmart does not participate in these types of promotions and has no affiliation with them."

In addition to the letter, the package contained a check for $3,920, which was supposedly for the payment of $2,785 in "government applicable taxes and insurance fees." Zarbock was told she could keep the difference if she paid the taxes via Money Gram or Western Union.

Once she did this, a check for the remainder of her winnings would supposedly be sent to her via FedEx.

The letter's poor grammar, misspellings, and the request to cash a check and send money before winnings could be collected, however, were not enough to convince Zarbock she was the target of a scam, she said.

It was not until she called several times, never being able to speak to the contact people specified on the letter, that she began to worry.

"They were never there. It was always, 'They would be back in two hours,'" said Zarbock. "It was always two hours."

Another red flag was that she was never able to get information on the contest she supposedly entered.

Zarbock said the people who answered her calls would not tell her anything but, "Take check. Go to bank. Deposit check and call back."

After calling her bank and the police, Zarbock confirmed she was caught in the middle of a scam.

"I was mad. I got to thinking people like my mother who are elderly and are on Social Security or even young people who are out of work could get this letter and really think they got something," said Zarbock. "I feel sorry for anyone who did."

In an attempt to inform the public about her near financial misfortune, Zarbock made copies of her letter and distributed them at Walmart and Kohl's.

"Hopefully, somewhere down the line, they will get caught," said Zarbock. "I hope they get the message that they can't mess with Victoria, Texas."

A Google search of the keywords "Manulife, Financial, check, scam" yielded 11,400 hits.

Appelt said these type of scams are "a dime a dozen" and the scammers are very seldom caught.

He said these check scams often entail pre-paid cell phones, fake aliases and scammers who contact potential victims by picking names at random from the phonebook.

"When people get these prizes and payouts, if the people sending the checks are asking for you to send cash or a portion of the money back, then it's probably not legit," said Appelt. "Any legit business is going to subtract any taxes beforehand or if you win they will have you pay someone else not their company."

Appelt also debunked misinformation that the bank will take responsibility for cashing the fraudulent checks. The money comes from your account, he said.

Appelt encourages anyone who receives a letter of this nature to contact Crime Stoppers at 361-485-3808.

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