March 16, 2008 - Portland, Oregon
By Jeff Jaeger and KATU Web Staff
Travelers check scam arrives in Portland
PORTLAND, Ore. - Elle Hayes thought she had gotten some payback from a friend she had loaned some money to when a package full of $500 travelers checks recently arrived at her home.
Police said she was mistaken and was lucky she did not try to cash the checks.
Police say they understand that anyone would be thrilled to receive money in the mail, but they say it's actually a sophisticated scam that has landed in the Portland area and could land the unwary in jail.
Hayes said she thought good karma had come her way when she received a box from shipping company DHL that held thousands of dollars in travelers checks.
They looked real enough, but police said they were fakes and are part of a scam that is a physical incarnation of a well-known Internet scam, typically originating in Nigeria, Africa.
The sender of the fake checks has only a small request: cash the checks and keep the money, but just send 10 percent of the money to an off-shore location.
Police say that anyone foolish enough to follow through on the request could land in jail for cashing forged documents, a serious offense with a possible prison sentence of up to five years.
Police told KATU News that the official-looking checks, which are actually sophisticated forgeries, typically arrive from shipping company DHL. There are typically six checks for $500 each in the box, but no note or explanation is included.
A few days later, police say the recipient then receives a letter or email telling them to cash the checks and send a small portion of the funds overseas.
According to investigators, the packages appear to be coming from overseas and then move through New Jersey but have a Portland return address.
Police said one woman who received and cashed the checks has been arrested. They also said they know of at least four people in the Portland area who have received the checks.
"Money doesn't fall out of the sky, or come by DHS, UPS or by mail," a police investigator told KATU.
Police said that if you receive an unexpected package containing money, it's likely a scam and they urge you to contact them and not to cash the checks.
(Note: pictures are on the website)