Marianas Variety Guam Edition – The Local and Regional Newspaper

12 23Sat11012014

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USAO: Scams target Guam & CNMI

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THE U.S. Attorney’s Office yesterday warned  the public to be wary of three different scams that target Guam and the Northern Marianas residents.

U.S. Attorney Alicia Limtiaco  identified these schemes as “a referral scam, a grant scam and a please help me scam.”

Limtiaco said the referral scam targets law firms, and uses actual company and attorney names to perpetrate the scheme using a counterfeit check that usually clears the bank’s provisional clearance, and leaves the law firm replacing lost funds.

In a statement, she said the scammer poses as an out of state attorney and sends a referral to a law firm that seeks to enforce a contract dispute or collect a debt from a local corporation owed to a foreign company.

The law firm confirms the prospective client is a real company, enters into a fee agreement, sends a demand letter, and later receives a cashier's check made payable to the law firm.

The client directs the law firm to wire the money, after deducting fees and costs. The law firm deposits the money into a trust account, waits for the check to clear the law firm’s bank, and wires the money to the client.

It is usually too late to stop the wire transfer once the bank on which the check is drawn makes an assertion that it’s a counterfeit.

The law firm's client trust account takes out the money, and the firm has to replace the funds.

Limtiaco said the scam works because the law firm erroneously believes that the check is good when it clears the law firm's bank.  However, the first clearance is only provisional. Under the federal law, a Pacific Island bank has additional time to verify and scrutinize the check.

“Beware of similar circumstances,” she warned the public in a statement. “Remember, those engaged in these schemes are devious and will use the names of actual companies, client contacts and referring attorneys in an effort to sell the scam.”

The grant scam involves a phone call or email notifying the victim of a free grant, but they must pay a small processing fee, usually around $50.

“It may sound legitimate because the caller will give you his/her name, a control number and telephone numbers to call Washington, D.C. to claim your grant. If you have not submitted an application for a government grant and someone claims you have been awarded one, it is a scam,” said Limtiaco.

The “please help me,” scam uses email to contact a victim and claims to be a family member or friend who is out of the country and lost their passport and wallet.

The scammer claims that the hotel will not release them until the hotel bill is paid, and asks the victim to wire the money.

“Because the email came from an email address associated with a family member, friend or acquaintance, you may think that that person is actually in trouble,” said Limtiaco.