Fraud warning for St Augustine elders

Historic City News interviewed one St. Augustine resident this morning who was the intended victim of an apparent mail fraud — extreme caution on his part and careful examination of the documents received through the mail helped one senior avoid a potential $2,700 rip-off.

“Don’t do anything with this except turn it over to the police,” Herbie Wiles advised the 91 year-old would-be victim, who joins him for coffee during the week.

We are withholding the victim’s real name from this article; however, he has been a resident and made his career here for many years before he retired.

When the victim came to the table this morning, he had “good news”. It seems he had received a letter dated October 19, announcing that his deceased wife was a “final prize” winner for $270,000.

Ordinarily, the victim would have tossed the letter, as a hoax; however, there was something different about this. Inside the envelope was a check made payable to the victim’s wife, addressed to the victim’s residence. The check was for $4,350.35.

The letter, ostensibly from “UBS Wealth Management, Inc”, said that the full winnings, less this initial payment, had been deposited in a UBS account. UBS is a legitimate global financial services company with offices in the United States and Canada, Switzerland, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and Caribbean, Middle East and Africa.

The notification letter signed “Ethel Kessler, Senior Accountant” instructed the victim to call a telephone number at an area code and exchange listed for Vancouver in southwestern British Columbia. The address on the letter was in Toronto, Ontario. The return address on the envelope was a post office box in Vancouver.

The victim was told to ask to speak to his “claim agent” and gave the name “Paul Hayes”.

Hayes was supposed to be able to direct the balance of the $270,000 by “bank draft, certified check or direct deposit”. The victim was told in the Kessler letter that the call to Hayes was required to “activate your claim” and should occur before the $4,350.25 check was deposited.

The reason given for the delay was that the claim agent had to verify that the victim paid the required “non-residential tax” before funds could be released. The balance was to follow “24 hours after you have paid” the alleged tax.

The victim was not to send the money to the claim agent — but rather a “tax agent” named “Alice Gray” at a Park Avenue address in New York City; which is actually the Met Life Building (formerly the PAN-AM Building) at Grand Central Station in Manhattan.

The “tax payment” was to be sent by Western Union Money Transfer.

For the victim’s safety and to avoid multiple claims, the Kessler letter “strongly advises” the victim to keep the letter away from the public.

A Historic City News investigator examined the document and check. Except for the fact that the check supposedly was drawn on the account of a gas station and convenience store from a community bank located in Texas, it appeared to be in proper form; in that it contained the appropriate MICR encoding for the check number, nine digit routing number, and properly formatted account number for some payer’s account. The check was laser printed on multi-tone safety paper with a watermark; of the type available to the public at many office supply superstores.

Michael Gold, a licensed Florida private investigator and editor of Historic City News, said for all citizens, senior or otherwise, who may have lost a loved one in the past year, to be suspicious of this ploy in case they receive an unexpected check payment.

Henry M. Whetstone, a director on the board of the Bank of St. Augustine, also reviewed the documents and concluded, “Most bank tellers would have accepted this check for deposit, especially for a depositor of the victim’s caliber.”

The collection period could have been several days before the bank and victim was aware of the fraud.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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