At least three Marshalltown, Iowa, residents have been targeted by a bogus check scam in the last two weeks, according to Marshalltown Police Chief Lon Walker.
A resident last week and two this week each received letters from companies in Canada saying they had won hundreds of thousands of dollars in a contest or lottery, along with a check to help cover anticipated taxes.
But then the letter asks its "winners" to pay the couple thousand dollars in taxes out of their own pocket before receiving their full winnings.
The scam succeeds if a person deposits or cashes the check and sends a check or money order of their own to the company, because the deposited check will come back bad and they will have lost however much they sent in. One of the three that reported the scam to the MPD had cashed and spent the money, Walker said.
The checks are printed on blanks like ones you can get at various office stores and would be valid if linked to an active account, he said. At least one of the checks that was brought to him had a valid routing number but non-existent account number.
With the accurate routing number, the check may take a couple days before it bounces, he said.
"These are not legitimate and if you cash the check, you're liable for whatever amount you get because the bank will want to get it back," he said.
For years scams involving Africans with big bank account balances have tried to get people's bank account numbers, he added, but this new type of lottery scam has surged in only the past few weeks.
"The bottom line for people is if it sounds too good to be true, it is," Walker said. "The only free cheese is on the mousetrap."
There has also been a recent increase in bogus $50 bills, he noted. Special marking pens and looking for watermarks are usually good ways to detect a counterfeit, though sometimes it can be hard to tell at bars or restaurants at night.
"We suggest people who deal in cash talk to their cashiers about watching out for funny money," he said.
MPD officers are available to assist in counterfeit education. For more information, contact the MPD at 641-754-5725.