by Lance Gay
Scripps Howard News Service
December 09, 2004
Bob Anderson, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said postal inspectors first detected the fraud earlier this year and are finding it is spreading fast across the Internet.
"It's actually a deviation of the old Nigerian scam," Anderson said, which involved e-mailed invitations to gullible people from Nigerian princes or ex-employees of the Nigerian oil ministry to share money they say they have deposited in foreign bank accounts.
The latest fraud involves someone contacted on Internet chat rooms or through auction sites pleading the need for assistance in cashing a Postal Service money order, bank money order or cashier's check. The contact is told he can keep some of the money when the check is cashed as long as the rest is wired back by bank transfer to an overseas bank account.
Once a connection is made, the money order or cashier's check is sent to a person's home address. Anderson said some people have wired money back from their own bank accounts before trying to cash the money orders at their local Post Office, only to learn the money orders are fraudulent.
"Our postal clerks are trained to be aware of this. We've given everybody a security briefing," Anderson said. Anderson said some of the fraudulent checks were sophisticated enough that clerks passed them through during high-volume periods when clerks process hundreds of postal orders. "Christmas is a time to spread them," he said.
He noted that people involved in passing phony checks could be charged with federal crimes. He said that in some instances the Postal Service money orders are fakes, but in other cases the amounts on valid cashier's checks have been altered. While many of the recent frauds have been tracked back to Nigeria, he said the fraud is also being coordinated through other foreign countries.
The scams work because people are looking for easy money.
"Scams promising quick and easy money are cast by fraudsters," said Chief Postal Inspector Lee Heath. "These scam artists can easily connect to a sea of strangers through the Internet and dangle promising treats, hoping someone will bite."
"Don't take the bait," Heath said.
E-mail Lance Gay at GayL(at)shns.com.