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Posted: March 14, 2009 11:59 p.m.

Police warn of new scam

Detectives with the Covington Police Department are warning citizens of a new scam going around Newton County that preys on those who are desperately seeking employment.

According to Detective D.J. Seals, the new scam is being called the “Wal-Mart Scam” and those running the scam target the unemployed with promise of a job as a mystery shopper at local stores with very familiar names such as Wal-Mart.

The scammers locate victims through resumes posted online. The victims themselves supply personal information, such as their name and address, in the hopes of getting calls from would-be employers. Instead, some of them receive packages from a company allegedly looking for mystery shoppers.

Inside the packages are official looking documents from a staffing agency and the letters that feature logos from well-known companies. The enclosed instructions tell the recipient to go to Wal-Mart and make a $20 purchase of their choice and then to take the check for roughly $990, cash it, and keep $100 themselves for their work. They are instructed to make a money order for the remainder of the money and send it back. According to Seals, many people desperate for work are falling victim to a scam that has been around for years and has been known by a multitude of names.

“The people that are biting at this are in need of money and all they see is the money. They start thinking of what bill $100 could go toward or how much food that can put on their table with that money. They don't stop to think of anything else.”

The CPD has seen three of these particular scams just this past week and the local Wal-Mart store is very aware of the scam as well, according to Seals.

“If we've seen three I can't help but wonder how many went out to people who just threw them away.”

The latest victim of the scam received the documents in the mail and did exactly as she was asked. When she attempted to cash the check at Wal-Mart they told her it was a scam.

“She cooperated fully,” said Seals. “Which leads us to believe that she had no idea it was a scam to begin with.”

But victim or not, the letter of the law is clear. If you cash a check for any amount of money – no matter how small – and the check turns out to be a forgery then you can be charged with first degree forgery. Even having a forged check in your possession is against the law and can lead to being charged with second degree forgery.

Detectives look at each individual case though, and the women in question was, according to Seals, a victim.

“She was even going to send the money back. She was doing exactly what she thought she was supposed to do. But these companies prey on people who are looking for jobs because they know they need the money.”

Seals urges people to look at everything they receive closely for signs that it might not be legitimate. In this particular scam, the envelope and all the information in it is from Canada, the check inside is from a mushroom company out of California and the company is reportedly based in Colorado.

“Anytime you get a check or a money order – anything like that that is unsolicited – you should be extra vigilant in checking it out,” Seals said. “Money doesn't just fall off trees and people have to use their common sense. Unfortunately, many are motivated by either need or greed and they go to a lot of trouble for just a little bit of money.”

According to Seals, the CPD officers will be more than happy to help residents identify these fraudulent letters. For those people who cannot come into the police department, officers will come out to them. Seals also recommends shredding the information before throwing it away. And, if citizens would prefer, they can bring the letters to the CPD and they will shred it for them.

“We just want this stuff off the street and we want to help the citizens in any way that we can,” Seals said. “These scammers are very good at what they do. This is their job, it's how they make their living, and they wouldn't be doing it if they weren't making money. People just have to make sure they are extra diligent and don't let the greed get to them.”

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