MOULTRIE -- "If it sounds too good to be true," said Regina Harrell, "it probably is."
Harrell, head teller of American Banking Company, held in her hand a check for $4,300 made out to a bank customer. In front of her was a letter saying the customer had won $1.5 million in the Euro Lotto. The check had been sent to the customer to cover "insurance and stamp duties," the letter said, and the money had to be sent to a Las Vegas address so that the customer could recover the balance of her winnings.
Of course, the winnings don't exist.
Because bank employees had been warned by earlier scams, they caught the fraud while the customer was in the bank, trying to buy a money order to send to Las Vegas.
"Just by glancing at this check, there's no way to know it's [fraudulent]," Harrell said.
The only thing Harrell found that might have roused her suspicions -- a routing number quite different from the ones she usually handles -- was in fact legitimate; another bank employee traced it to the bank named on the check, although that bank did not issue the check, she said.
Had the bank not caught the fraud, the $4,300 would have been added to the customer's account; the customer would have bought a money order for that same amount and mailed it to Las Vegas; the bank the check was issued on would have refused payment; and American Banking Company would have deducted $4,300 from the customer's account ... if there was that much in there. If the account didn't have that much in it, the customer would have had to pay back the difference.
In fact, said Nellie Warren, ABC's vice president for operations, the customer could face criminal penalties if police thought she knew the check was bogus.
"They [scams] are coming from all over the place any more," Warren said.
"We can't stop the crooks," she said. "If we can just stop the people from falling for them."
This scam is identical to one reported to The Observer in late April.
On April 20, Moultrie Police Sgt. Roger Lindsay told The Observer at least five fraudulent checks form the University of Wisconsin Credit Union in Madison, Wis., a legitimate business, had been sent to area residents. The counterfeit checks were sent from Canada along with a letter just like the ABC Bank customer received, saying the recipient had won money in a lottery.
The letter recipient was to cash the check, buy a money order and send that money order to someone in Canada to receive the lottery prize.
Lindsay said in April that police had also been notified of three counterfeit money orders sent to area residents from London. Similar to the other scam, the recipients were asked to cash the money orders and send the money back.
The fact the person sending the documents is asking for money back should show the transaction is a scam, Lindsay said. Any items won from a legitimate group never require money be sent to claim them.
Lindsay encouraged anyone who receives a suspicious check to contact the Moultrie Police or Colquitt County Sheriff's Office. They can determine whether the document is legitimate or not.