- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2007

A newly organized global awareness alliance yesterday warned that scammers are using the Internet more often to cash bad checks through victims who expect to gain small fortunes.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Postmaster General John E. Potter said during a press conference in Northwest that also included law-enforcement officials from the United States, the Netherlands, Nigeria and Canada.

Mr. Potter said officials made 77 arrests and seized 540,000 fake checks worth more than $2.1 billion during a global initiative that began in January. It was the largest amount seized in the history of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Seven defendants were to be extradited from the Netherlands and tried for conspiracy and mail and wire fraud. Officials made 60 arrests in the Netherlands, one in Canada and 16 in Nigeria, and collected 15,000 fake checks in 21 days.

An eight-month investigation into schemes in Nigeria, the Netherlands, England and Canada stopped more than 500,000 fake checks from being mailed to Americans, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service said.

Officials are starting a campaign to help Americans recognize scams involving counterfeit checks.

The FBI’s crime complaint Web site said such reports are increasing dramatically, from an average of 593 per month in 2004 to 743 per month last year.

The National Consumers League reports that counterfeit check cost victims an average of $3,000 to $4,000.

As part of some scams, victims are told they have won a foreign lottery or sweepstakes and should pay a fee to collect their winnings. In other cases, scammers establish personal relationships online and then persuade their victims to send them travel money, or they put down payments on rental properties using bad checks only to ask for refunds before the checks clear.

Greg Campbell, a U.S. postal inspector, said banks may not learn for several days that a deposited check is bad, and the bank customer must pay when the check is determined to be worthless.

“Whenever you look for something for nothing, that’s exactly what you are going to get,” said Rep. Danny K. Davis, Illinois Democrat and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on the federal workforce, postal service and the District of Columbia.

Johan van Hartskamp, an Amsterdam police commissioner, said more than 50 percent of the victims of bad-check scams are Americans. He praised the U.S. Postal Service for starting the public awareness campaign.

“We have to work with the general public,” he said.

Laurel Kamen, vice president of American Express, said Chicago banks are training tellers how to recognize bad checks.

“Scams are global in scope and they are constantly working,” she said.

The Alliance for Consumer Fraud Awareness, which was founded last October, said consumers can learn more about counterfeit-check schemes and report frauds on the Web site FakeChecks.org.

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