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BLUFFTON -- When Sam Hunter opened the envelope containing a legitimate-looking letter and an even more legitimate-looking check for $3,900, he smelled a rat.'
The letter, from "Boston Financial," informed him that he had won $3,900 in the "International Lotto." It went on to say that "due to a mix-up of numbers and addresses, we advise you to keep this award private and confidential in order to avoid double claims."'
In the upper left corner of the check, it said the account holder is "International Strategy Group LLC, Disbursements Account." The check, which had a watermark and "JP Morgan Chase Bank" on it, looked as if it could be deposited in a bank account.'
So what would have happened had Hunter deposited the check? First, it most likely would have bounced.'
Even worse, the scam artists then would have his account number and other personal information and could have stolen his identification or gotten access to his bank account, said Tom O'Neill, spokesman for the FBI's Columbia division.'
"International Lotto" is listed on multiple Web sites warning people that it's a scam.'
"Boston Financial" seems to be nonexistent -- there's no address on the letterhead.'
The company name on the check, "International Strategy Group LLC," is based in Orange, Calif., and according to the state of California, it is incorporated as an "International Business Consulting Service." Directors of the company are listed as Suman and Ulrike Naresh.'
The phone number for the company listed in the letter didn't work late in the day Friday, but it worked for Hunter in an unusual way Thursday and early Friday.'
"When I got the check," he said, "I immediately called and (the man who answered) asked me for the account number on the letter. I gave it to him and then said, 'I want you to explain to me what this is about and how you got my name and address.' And bingo! I was cut off.'
"I called again on my cell phone and no answer. So I called on my home phone on Friday, and he answered and asked me who it was, and I told him and he said, 'Just a minute,' and I was cut off again.'
"The thing is, I knew it was a scam and he knew I knew. But it's very serious and it could affect other people."'
The FBI's O'Neill said anytime you receive a check in the mail that "you weren't expecting or are not entitled to, destroy it. They're trying to get you to bite, and somewhere down the line, they're attempting to gain access to your bank accounts or assume your identity."'
Mark Plowden, spokesman for state Attorney General Henry McMaster, said, "If it looks too good to be true, it is. Not probably. It is.'
"These scam artists are notorious for preying on older citizens. Seniors should know that if anything even remotely looks suspicious, they should contact their local law enforcement agency."