Residents of Throggs Neck are receiving solicitations from scam artists who are trying to get them to deposit fraudulent checks at local banks in order to collect even bigger rewards, but not until they spend some of their own money on processing fees to receive the fake “grants” or “sweepstakes winnings,” of course.
A representative from New York Community Bank at 3681 E. Tremont Avenue first began to notice the odd checks in sums totaling several thousand dollars that look like regular bank checks, except they are fakes originating from Canadian scam artists. The mailings are sent from both Canada and the southern and western United States.
The letters, from fraudulent companies called Lever Ponds Limited, Cdclarue Industries, ISS Greensboro, Grant Opportunities, and others, ask the recipient to pay a phony “processing fee” or “taxes” that would allow them to collect grants and sweepstakes winnings totaling between $32,000 to more than $480,000.
Unfortunately, the checks cover only part of the so-called “processing fees” or “taxes”, with the “winner” footing the rest of the bill, often totaling several thousand dollars more than the mailed check totals. No one who has sent in the processing fee has ever received the promised award.
“They send checks to one particular party saying ‘we are pleased to announce that you have just received a grant of $32,050, and here is $2,950 to assist in paying your processing fees,’” said Christina Ulanski, manger of the local New York Community Bank, who first noticed the trend at her branch. “One of my [other] customers deposited one of these checks, and actually ended up taking a loss on it.”
Ulanski said that since October the bank has received a number of these fraudulent checks in varying amounts: $3,995.50, $4,800, and other amounts.
Some of the bank’s customers with checking accounts have tried to deposit the checks, often resulting in a $10 returned check fee. She believes the origin of the scam may be in Canada, as on many of the letters there is a Canadian customer service number that goes to a recording about how to obtain further information about the fake grant or sweepstakes winnings. The solicitations have “customer service” numbers originating in Florida, with checks from Oklahoma and Maine.
New York Community Bank has received at least three of the fraudulent checks. Ulanski contacted Throggs Neck Merchants Association president John Cerini, and Senator Jeff Klein’s office, which she said indicated the federal government was aware of the fraud and is conducting an investigation.
Calls placed to phone numbers on several of the different letters, all playing on the theme of sending money through Money Gram or Western Union for processing fees, either were not returned or were disconnected numbers.
One of the victims, Manuel Garcia, who banks at NYCB, said that he felt fortunate that the scan only cost him the returned check fee. Garcia received a $2,950 check to be put towards a total of $5000 in processing fees. He was ultimately supposed to get $32,050 as part of a “grant,” which he never applied for. Some of the checks in the other scams were for more than the processing fees or taxes were for, but Garcia’s was for less.
“I am lucky because the bank caught the mistake, and I want other people who have received checks like these [to know] this is a trick,” Garcia said. “I am sure a lot of people like me have had this same thing happen to them.