Bogus documents flood Whidbey Island

Oak Harbor Police Detective Mike Bailey has more than $150,000 in money orders, checks, traveler’s checks and money grams on his desk.

Trouble is, it’s all counterfeit.

Bailey received the stack of bogus documents from city residents who got them in the mail from scam artists around the globe. With the holiday season on the way, the detective said the swindlers will be out in force, trying to con people out of their money with a variety of creative schemes.

“Now until Christmas is the most common time,” Bailey said. “People are very vulnerable around the holidays when it comes to money.”

The typical fraud, Bailey said, is when a person unexpectedly receives a check or some other type of forged document in the mail. They are asked to deposit the money in their bank accounts, keep 10 percent or so, and send the rest to an address provided. Then it turns out that the check was bogus, but the goodhearted victim already sent the money.

“Anything you get in the mail, whether it’s a check or money order, assume it’s not legitimate,” Bailey said, noting that a local resident received some very realistic-looking traveler’s checks. “If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.”

Some con artists still work over the phone, especially after a victim was identified through a mail scam. Bailey said they can seem very professional. A couple of give-aways, Bailey said, is when the person repeatedly uses the terms “legal” and “legitimate” to describe a transaction. Also, many of them have African accents since many of the scams originate in African countries.

Lately, Bailey is beginning to see a new wrinkle on the old scam. People are receiving emails with a job offer, an announcement of a prize or other variations. The victims may be asked to send their bank account information, their address or other information.

Don’t do it, the detective says.

Bailey said one man responded to an email and received two checks — one for $30,000 and another for $81,000. He deposited the checks and used the money to pay off some bills before finding out they were fake. Fortunately, he discovered the truth before sending the grifters any of his money.

Other people aren’t so fortunate. Bailey said two older residents lost a total of $80,000 last year in similar scams. One woman was so fooled by a flimflam man that she continued sending him money even after the police told her it was a hustle.

Bailey points out that folks are actually engaging in money laundering, though unintentionally, when they exchange the fraudulent checks or money grams for cash.

Bailey and Detective Carl Seim offer a presentation about the scams and would be glad to speak to any groups in the city. Bailey can be reached at 279-4622. Seim can be reached at 279-4621.

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