A fool and his money … | AspenTimes.com

A fool and his money …

Joel Stonington and John Colson
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” A local woman recently was bilked out of thousands of dollars through a complicated scam involving a purported job offer for a company that apparently did not exist ” just one of numerous people who have either lost money through fraud or told police of an attempt in recent weeks.

Both the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and the Aspen Police Department say they have had an increase in calls and actual criminal acts since the beginning of December.

The victim of last week’s scam, whose name has not been released, answered an ad in The Aspen Times classified section in December, hoping to get a job as an office assistant advertised as an import/export business, according to Aspen police officer Leon Murray.

Murray said the woman met the man at a local bar in late December, and the man said he would hire her for office work but told her, “I have to know that I can trust you first.”

The man then produced three Wal-Mart money orders with a face value between $2,500 and $4,000 and instructed the woman to deposit them in her personal account. She was to then write out a personal check in the same amount, made out to a name that Murray also did not divulge because the matter is under investigation, and send it to an address in the Dominican Republic. The money orders turned out to be bogus, Murray said, and the woman’s money was gone.

“As soon as I heard the words ‘money orders,’ I knew what it was,” Murray said, explaining that this type of fraud, known as “the Western Union money scam,” is well known to police.

The case, in addition to the element of fraud, has acquired a sense of menace, Murray said, because the man threatened the woman at one point.

“The victim is very, very afraid of this guy,” Murray said.

Recent frauds have taken many shapes and sizes. From announcements in the mail or e-mail of sweepstakes wins to what is known as “419” (named after the portion of the Nigerian penal code that involves fraud) or “advanced fee fraud.”

Unfortunately, police have a hard time tracking people down, many of whom work from outside the country. Some scammers, though, have landed on the ground in Aspen and managed to get money out of locals.

On Tuesday, Aspen Police said men were spotted trying to sell speakers out of a Dodge Durango ” a fraud known as “white van speakers” ” in which sellers make a buyer believe the speakers are high quality and some kind of mistake was made at the loading docks such that the men need to sell the speakers quickly.

“Either they’re broken, they’re empty or they’re a piece of crap,” said officer Leon Murray. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office had a recent case in which a man ordered a vehicle over the Internet from Asia, but it has been held up in customs for months because it doesn’t suit current emissions requirements.

“If somebody offers you a brand new Jeep for $8,000 you better think something is up,” said deputy Jesse Steindler. “The problem with so many of these is that there’s very little recourse.”

Perhaps the most common form of fraud is what is known as the “Nigerian Scam.” It takes many forms, but often involves a significant sum of money that is to be given, but in order for the person being scammed to get the money, they first need to pay for something.

A man called police Thursday who said he got a letter saying he had won $4 million, but when he called to inquire, the people said they needed $499 to pay U.S. Marshals to fly the money.

“He really wanted that check to be real,” said Aspen Detective Chris Womack, of someone who brought a fake check in to police. “I said, ‘It’s not good, we can rip it up right now,’ and he said, ‘No.’ I even called the FBI in Glenwood to make sure that it wasn’t good. … He really wanted that check to be real.”

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