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Scammed by … Woodrow Wilson?

By Claes Bell ·
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Posted: 10 am ET

Although not as high-tech as some of the identity theft being perpetrated by hackers these days, checking scams are an oldie-but-goodie for criminals worldwide. Check fraud losses in the U.S. alone cost the banking industry $893 million, according to a 2011 report from the American Bankers Association.

Still, it's rare to see checking fraud being perpetrated by long-deceased ex-presidents.

The check scammers used Woodrow Wilson's signature for a fraudulent check.

Most thieves won't be stupid enough to use an ex-president's signature to sign a bad check.

A Bankrate colleague received a solicitation via snail mail this week. The pitch will be familiar to anyone who's checked their email lately:

We are pleased to bring this official notice which confirms that you are a 2nd prize winner in the second category of the USA Departmental Stores Sweepstake Lottery held on March 31, 2012.

The serial number 3549 attached to your name matched the first lucky winners, and you subsequently won US$250,000.00 (Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars).

Sunlife Financial Services has been assigned by the sweepstake organization to inform all winners and pay them off their money. Your payment will be made by a CERTIFIED CHECK, which will be delivered to you by our special courier company UPS or FedEx.

Enclosed is a check in the amount of US$4,450.50 which is deducted from your total winning and is to help you pay for the documentation and taxes fees and this is payable to your Tax Agent Names.

Tax Agent Names: Judy Foster and Teresa Adams

Tax Fees: $3,400.00 US Dollars

Payment Method: Western Union/Money Gram

Please do not act on this notice until you contact your claim agent to avoid cases of misappropriation and mishandling of prize money. You are advised to contact your Claims Agents: Steven Bass or Jessica Anderson.

This is a fairly standard counterfeit check scam. Had he fallen for it, my colleague would have deposited the check in good faith and wired the money to the thieves via Western Union/MoneyGram, leaving my colleague holding the bag when the check bounced.

Fortunately, the thieves didn't manage to get anything out of my colleague but a good laugh, after a glance at the bad check revealed the master criminals had cribbed 28th president, Woodrow Wilson's signature.

While most thieves probably won't make a mistake quite that stupid, there are other elements to the letter that probably tipped him off, and should tip you off as well.

  • Awkward grammar, spelling and punctuation. "Sunlife Financial Services has been assigned by the sweepstake organization to inform all winners and pay them off their money."
  • Getting wire transfer services such as MoneyGram or Western Union involved. Thieves love them because it's nearly impossible for the sender to locate the recipient should things go wrong.
  • He never entered, or even heard of, the contest in question.

What do you think? Have you ever gotten a fraudulent check like this? Would this scam have fooled you?

Follow me on Twitter: @ClaesBell.

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