Don't cash that check
The check usually looks real, it's the letter that gives it away.
"An assistance check of $2,962.30 is hereby enclosed to help you pay for your tax and administrative expenses (International Clearance fees) involved with your winnings. We are sending you this check from your winnings to assist you to pay for the International Clearance fees involved, after which your money shall be released."
Scams. They are trapping people one lucky winner at a time.
A closer look at the letter congratulating the next victim shows it comes from a company in the Virgin Islands. To call and claim the prize, winners must call a number in Halifax, Nova Scotia. But wait, that's not all. The check that is enclosed comes from a company with an address in Dallas, and a phone number in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
"Counterfeit checks or instructions to wire so much money," usually to an overseas location, are the main tips it's a scam, Detroit Lakes Police Investigator Chad Jutz said.
He said that while the letters with instructions may look like they are from the United States, check the envelopes.
"Envelopes are usually postmarked from somewhere in Canada or overseas," he said.
There are several ways to differentiate between frauds and scams and a legitimate prize.
The United State Postal Service delivers thousands of sweepstake offers a day, and its Web site gives a few pointers.
If a sweepstakes is legit, it's free.
If the winning letter is asking for any sort of banking, credit card or other account information, it's a scam. If wiring money is required, it's a scam. And if there needs to be other purchases made, it's a scam.
According to usps.com, "postal inspectors responded to more than 82,000 mail fraud complaints in 2004. Inspectors are considering criminal charges or civil penalties of up to $1 million for (certain) scams, which involved various company names and more than 50 different solicitations."
Jutz stressed those same warnings. Anytime someone has to pay out money, it's a scam, he said.
While elderly people are targeted, it's not just them getting the letters. Jutz said a "well-rounded cut of society" has turned in scam letters to the DLPD.
There isn't much the police department can do, but it does report them.
"We've tried tracking it down, but it's usually out of the U.S., and then we need help from the FBI," he said.
Because of the relatively small amounts of money being requested -- anywhere from $50 to $3,000 -- the FBI doesn't look at the complaints. If they were bigger, like $1 million, then the FBI would be more involved.
Jutz said the good news is he only knows of one or two people who have actually lost money to the scams.
"Any time they are requesting money, do not send money. It's a scam," he said simply.
To help deal with the problem, Officer Tammy Hunt and Captain Paul Goecke have given classes in the community on fraud, Jutz said.
Scams don't stop there, and don't necessarily just target individuals. Jutz said there have been three instances in Detroit Lakes of businesses being scammed as well.
One example was a business got an order for tile to tile an entire hotel. Turns out the hotel was in Guam. The business was tipped off because of the logic of it and because the credit card the person was trying to use was denied.
A lumber business in town was asked for a shipment of plywood. To Guinea. In that case, the credit card was still active and the owner didn't know it had been stolen. When Jutz looked into the case, it turns out five credit cards had been used in the scam.
"It comes down to a common sense issue," he said of catching these fraudulent cases.
Business owners and others with questions about scams can contact the DLPD.