Teller uncovers mail scam
Tracy B. Cieniewicz, Hartselle Enquirer
A quick-thinking teller alerted a customer and local authorities to a mail scam last week.
According to Hartselle Police Department Investigator Alan McDearmond, Union Planter's Bank notified HPD on Oct. 20 that a customer was trying to cash a check the bank believed to be false.
Hartselle resident Mary Lawrimore presented the check for $985 from National Bank of Commerce, Memphis, Tenn. to a teller at the bank's drive-through window. The teller said the check looked suspicious and asked Lawrimore to step inside the bank. Once inside, Lawrimore showed the branch manager a letter enclosed with the check she received in the mail.
'The letter said Mrs. Lawrimore had won $82,000 from the Boxing Day Early Bird Sweepstakes," McDearmond said. "She then had to call a lady named Erica (in London) who sent her a $985 check to cash. Mrs. Lawrimore was then instructed to send the money back to the sweepstakes as a clearance fee so her winnings could clear Canadian customs."
Lawrimore told McDearmond she had never entered such a contest. McDearmond and the bank suspect the sweepstakes is a scam to pass fraudulent checks under bank radar.
McDearmond called the toll free number provided to speak with Erica Banks, who was listed as the foreign operations manager of the sweepstakes company. The phone number was the only direct contact information provided on any of the correspondence Lawrimore received.
"I called Erica Banks several times," McDearmond explained. "When I told her I was an investigator, she said, 'Uh,' and hung up. I tried several times to get her to talk to me and she refused. That in itself says the operation is very illegitimate."
McDearmond also believes the toll free number he called transferred to a cellular phone because the clarity of each phone call he made varied. Upon further investigation, McDearmond unearthed a similar scam in Dearborn, Ind. involving Banks where a 63-year-old man sent her $1,500 of personal funds to secure a $100,000 Canadian sweepstakes award.
"I would advise anyone receiving this or similar letters to contact the postal service immediately and have the letter forwarded to the postal inspector," McDearmond warned. "It is mail fraud and the postal service will investigate the matter quickly and thoroughly and take action."