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It may have started in Nigeria, but some Taylor County residents are feeling the effects in their pocketbooks.
The Taylor County Sheriff's Department has received numerous complaints lately about counterfeit checks residents have received in the mail.
Chief Deputy Allen Newton of the Taylor County sheriff's office says eight people have come into the sheriff's office in the past two weeks reporting that they have received the fake checks.
Newton said the checks look real, but if people try to cash them or call the company that wrote the check for more information, they may become the victim of a scam.
According to letters Newton obtained from two different residents, the $2,500 checks are mailed to people who have been selected to become "quality assurance analysts."
The letters say the recipient will be guided through the process of becoming a quality assurance analyst by the person who wrote the letter, Matthew Simmons.
The letter - written on letterhead bearing the name ICM and a New York, N.Y. address - states the company is conducting a research study and gathering statistics on the operations of Money Gram.
The purpose of the statistics, according to the letter, is to clarify whether the operating standards of Money Gram meet the laws backing their operations.
"This is necessary as various investigative reports have shown laxity in their operations, thus enabling money launders and drug traffickers to send and receive money through them," the letter states.
Simmons' letters states that he has chosen the recipient to gather information required to prepare ICM's report on Money Gram.
"To this extent, you will be required to pose as a potential customer either to send or receive money through the Money Gram agency in your location," the letter states.
The letter states that a Money Gram can be found at any Wal-Mart location.
First, the letter states, the recipient must send money to a field agent. On both letters Newton obtained, the field agent's address is Canadian.
After sending money, the letter states, the recipient will be required to transfer money from another agent.
The attached $2,500 check, the letter states, is for the recipient to cash and deposit in an account and send through Money Gram.
The recipient's pay for the training to become a quality assurance analyst and participate in the process, the letter states, is $250, which is included in the $2,500.
Simmons asks for the recipient to call ICM at the New York phone number listed. However, a reverse Internet search of the phone numbers listed on the letters shows that the numbers originate from Canada.
One Taylor County man sent $1,500 - twice - to the organization and has become a victim of the scam, Newton said.
Newton said he has been in contact with a United States Secret Service task force about the checks. He said they told him the scam originates from Nigeria and public awareness is the best way to combat it.
He said they also told him there is no way to trace the checks.
Newton said residents who have received the checks get a phone number to call. Those who have called, he said, hear a sales pitch and are asked for some personal information. They are then asked to cash the check they received and send the money back via a Money Gram.
"Then it goes down hill," Newton said.
Newton says the more Taylor Countians respond to the letters, the more residents will receive the scam in the mail. He says this latest scam is just one of many.
"They come up with something new every other week," he said.
Campbellsville Police Detective Sgt. Patricia Thompson said she hasn't received any reports of the scam Newton is investigating but is in the middle of her own investigation into reports of a traveler's check scam.
Thompson said she investigating a scam in which residents receive fake American Express traveler's checks in the mail.
She said those who search for the name and address on the checks will find that the name and address do actually exist. However, she said, she has found an address on some of the checks that traces back to an Ohio doctor, though he has no association with American Express.
She said people who receive the checks likely wouldn't have any problem cashing them because the name and address are correct.
Thompson said the checks look real and have several of the security features real traveler's checks have. These checks, she said, do have one feature that makes them obviously counterfeit - traveler's is misspelled.
Thompson said residents should know that they have to request traveler's checks and they aren't just sent in the mail.
Newton says residents should use common sense when it comes to receiving checks in the mail. Local banks have told him they have seen several of them, Newton said, and they know what to look for.
Newton said the sheriff's department can't do anything about the checks but can warn people about the nature of the scam.
"They have a task force that can't do anything," he said, "[so] what can we do about it?"
Allen said the best advice he can give to those who receive the letters and checks is to ignore them.
"The best thing to do when you get this is to throw it away."
- Staff Writer Calen McKinney can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 235 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.