By MICHELLE GANASSI
Daily American Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 4, 2006 11:56 PM CST
Form more information, visit the Somerset Trust Company web site.
Counterfeit Somerset Trust Co. checks have been sent out to people with a letter saying they won the lottery.
“There have not been any victims in the Somerset area or in the area of a Somerset Trust branch right now,” said Somerset Borough Police Officer Tony Novak.
Mike Whipkey, compliance officer for Somerset Trust Bank, said people have been receiving counterfeit checks, which appear to be Somerset Trust Co. checks, along with a letter telling the person they won the lottery in Canada. The check included is earmarked for administrative costs and the individual is asked to cash the check and wire the money, he said.
The letter said lottery proceeds would be sent at a later date. A few days later, the check is put through a clearing system and is returned as a counterfeit check, Whipkey said. The person who cashed the check is responsible for the money.
“We've been getting a lot of phone calls over the last couple of days,” he said. “Our main concerns to let people know to keep people from being scammed from it.” Novak said a few people have cashed the checks in six other states.
He said the company has used two different company names on the lotto letters. They even included a toll free number for people to call and verify the letter. “A subject answers the phone and identifies themselves as Somerset Trust Co. representative, which leads back to Canada,” he said.
Whipkey warns people against offers that are “too good to be true.” “Call the bank and make sure to get the details because in most causes it is usually a scam,” he said. He recommends people call a different number than listed on a letter to verify its authenticity. “There's so many different scams out there,” he said.
Novak said he does not know how individuals are chosen to receive the letter in this scam. “I'm not able to verify how they are obtaining this database of people,” he said. 0He added that approximately 100 people have reported to Somerset Trust that they have received a scam letter.
Novak has been working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He said the department has an anti-fraud call center and they are going to try and disconnect the toll free number that has been established for this scam. The U.S. Secret Service Counterfeit division, Pittsburgh, is also assisting in the investigation.
On a local level, Novak said, the scam artists are close to producing more than 50 checks, which is a copyright infringement.
Anyone who is a victim of this scam will need to contact their local law enforcement agency, added Novak.
(Michelle Ganassi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)