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Residents fall victim to international scam

Jason Cato
| Saturday, Jan. 20, 2007

If a letter arrives in the mail promising riches from the "land down under," things likely are not going to turn out OK -- no matter how exciting that initial check for almost $5,000 looks.

The FBI in Pittsburgh is warning Western Pennsylvania residents not to fall for one of the latest international scams to hit the region. It arrives in the form of a letter from Universal Blueprint International in Plainfield, Australia, in an envelope postmarked in Canada.

Soon-to-follow instructions tell people to deposit the check into their bank account and wire money to a person in London. If the first step is taken, more money will need to be wired before the $970,700 lottery winnings are received.

The problem• The jackpot doesn't exist and the check is bogus.

A Westmoreland County woman was taken for almost $400,000 before she realized it.

"It's heart-wrenching," said Ray Morrow, special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh FBI field office. "What do you say to her• The sad thing is you hardly ever get your money back. Even if we do find the people and get some money, it's usually just pennies on the dollar."

Robert Marsh, of Penn View, Indiana County, was taken last year by a Jamaican lottery scam and recently received the Australian letter.

"If you can get a buck, go for it," said Marsh, 73, explaining his mentality last year. Getting by on $600 a month isn't easy, he said. A $7 million payday would change that.

After shelling out $2,000 to get his winnings, Marsh realized he'd lost. When the new letter arrived last month, he took it to a friend at a bank.

She told him it was a scam, and he turned the letter and information over to the FBI.

But the new scammer calls Marsh every day, with the most recent call coming about 2 p.m. Friday.

"They're scamming the old people, that's what they're doing," Marsh said. "They don't give up. But there ain't no way I'm going to send any money. I've learned that. I think he figures he's got a goat."

Marsh doesn't expect to get his money back. Still, he hopes other people do not fall prey.

The FBI hopes the same.

Morrow said there are telltale signs to look for, with letters with numerous grammatical errors and requirements from a lottery to pay money in order to collect winnings among the most common.

Many elderly people may have fallen victim and are reluctant to tell anyone out of shame or embarrassment, Morrow said. Because of that, the FBI is urging people to talk to elderly relatives and friends about these scams and educate them.

"I think it's really important that we step forward as younger adults and help parents and other elderly relatives out," Morrow said.

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