Some scams prey on the vulnerable. Idaho seniors are often told they need to send money to bail out grandchildren arrested overseas (the names of the grandchildren come from a review of social media). My own autistic son fell prey to a caller who told him his computer had a virus that could be removed remotely in exchange for a simple debit card payment.
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has issued a steady stream of warnings to Idahoans regarding overpayment schemes targeting nonprofits (“I only meant to donate $500, not $5,000”), aggressive collection calls supposedly from the IRS (they don’t call), fraudulent emails purportedly arising from his own office, and many other variations.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a ringside seat to watch a pretty interesting, multi-layered one.
A supposed Chinese national (“Andrea Wong”) reached out to an Eastern Idaho real estate agent, asking to make an offer on a nearly million-dollar home in the Idaho Falls area. The seller accepted the offer.
The real estate agent was suspicious and asked me to help run things to ground. I reviewed the contract and googled the buyer’s address. It showed up in a Chinese postal guide as an example of how to address mail to the People’s Republic. First red flag.
The buyer then asked for the name of a local attorney to represent her. I wanted to learn more and sent a retainer agreement to the buyer asking for $3,500.
A few days later an envelope, bearing a rather unusual postmark, showed up at my law office. It was from a real Alabama metals company (another red flag) and contained a rather valid-looking check for $450,000 drawn on a bank in Alberta, Canada (red flag – more than 100 times what I requested).
My assistant called the Alabama entity. They confirmed A) They had never issued the check and B) The bank account was not theirs. Big red flags.
I took the envelope to the Idaho Falls post office. The manager said the postmark was actually a Canadian bulk mail permit. Of note, the bar coding demonstrated that it had been originally mailed in the United States. More red flags.
My local bank, Bank of Idaho, said the check was a pretty good one. But, it was missing a watermark that was referenced on the back of the check. Another red flag.
The goal of the whole scheme was to have the check deposited in my trust account with the purpose being to get our law office to refund some portion of the funds before the check bounced. Of course, I would never have allowed that to happen, but many are not so lucky.
I have had some discussion with a Pocatello-based FBI agent. He indicates these efforts often involve teams of individuals working across national borders. Here, the email account has been confirmed as likely originating overseas. But, the letter containing the check was mailed in the United States.
The FBI agent I spoke to says that Idahoans need to pay attention to red flags when money is involved. That means doing some due diligence and, if something doesn’t add up, stopping.
Most Idahoans are trusting people. Sometimes too trusting. When it comes to money a simple rule is wise: Never, ever hand over funds to anyone you don’t really know. Period. That rule applies even if they give you money first.