‘Nigerian scam’ continues to target valley and beyond | AspenTimes.com

‘Nigerian scam’ continues to target valley and beyond

Joel Stonington

Shelley Aberle recently listed a piano for sale in The Aspen Times. She jumped at an offer for $1,850 but was surprised to receive a cashier’s check for $4,500.

“I said, ‘This totally fits the pattern,'” Aberle said.

Because she had read in The Aspen Times about an overpayment scam that cost the Hotel Jerome more than $20,000, she called the FBI office in Glenwood Springs instead of cashing the check she’d received. The agent she spoke with told her, “We are getting so many of these calls, three or four a day from this valley alone.”

Aberle said that on closer inspection it became evident that the check was a fake.

The FBI office in Denver confirmed that it receives a large number of calls similar to the one Aberle made, but doesn’t have an open investigation into the “Nigerian scam.” The Nigerian scam is one deviation of what is known as 419 (after the portion of the Nigerian penal code that involves fraud) or advanced fee fraud.

Since the crime originates in foreign countries (often in East Africa) the two government agencies with open investigations are the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Postal Service.

Another, more common, variation singles someone out for a large payment, usually in the realm of $10 million to $60 million ” a lottery prize, bank account of the deceased, purchase of real estate, conversion of hard currency, sale of crude oil ” for deposit in a U.S. bank with a percentage for the recipient. Once the person is hooked, the victim is asked to pay fees for storage, insurance, transportation and other things before the transfer.

This is exactly what happened in a June 10 case in Parachute, when a person was swindled out of $750 with the promise of $2 million.

The U.S. Secret Service reports that this type of fraud case has increased dramatically in recent years. The agency estimates that the scam grosses hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

The Postal Service follows only counterfeit Postal Service money orders, a once-common type of scam that is waning.

“It’s very easy to tell if [a money order] is counterfeit,” said Andrew Rivas, a U.S. Postal Inspector based in Denver. He said money orders are more secure against counterfeit than currency. “Colorado is not nearly as bad as the rest of the country. We’re trying to intercept these as they come into the country.”

He said that though Colorado has not seen the brunt of the scam, other hotels in the state have also been caught just as the Jerome was. Rivas mentioned a hotel in Estes Park that received a check for too much money, and then had the reservation canceled.

“They took the loss,” he said. “If you see that pattern where it’s excess, wait until it clears. Under no circumstances wire the money until the check clears.”

Unlike some other locals, Aberle caught the scam before it was too late and didn’t end up losing money.

“If I hadn’t had my feelers up, I would have cashed it,” she said. “If you give me a plug maybe I’ll finally sell the piano.”

Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com

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