The is warning residents to remain vigilant to the threat of fraud, after several residents were targeted by strangers using counterfeit checks — and leaving the victims to pay their banks back.
Police Detective Peter Erickson said criminals are targeting residents with promises of easy money for a modicum of work and unexpected windfalls of cash, in exchange for a seemingly small financial transaction with their bank or local financial institution.
"Basically, it's a modified Ponzi scheme," said Erickson. "All of these schemes rely on greed."
The most typical scheme involves promises of an unexpected inheritance or windfall from someone who calls them by phone and claims an official title or position. The victim, believing they are owed money, is then mailed an authentic looking (but forged) check to deposit into their bank account — but must pay a sizable fee from that money to an offshore account for a "processing fee". Once the money is sent abroad, Det. Erickson said that forces local police into a dead-end.
Last October, a 79-year-old resident of a home on the 6700 block of 81st Avenue reported a caller posing as a representative from the Federal Trade Commission had contacted him an claimed he was entitled to a large sum of money — but he must pay processing fees back. The victim received several checks from another man in Massachusetts — who was also an unwitting victim in the scheme — and deposited them in his account while forwarding the "fee" money to the caller's contact in Costa Rica. The checks were later deemed counterfeit by the bank, attracting the attention of the FBI, who contacted Mercer Island Police. The man may be forced to pay the unnamed bank back.
"Victims can be held responsible," Erickson said. "It depends on the financial institution they're dealing with."
In another fraud case, reported Dec. 29, a 60-year-old woman discovered she was the victim of a scam after she tried to cash counterfeit USPS money orders she was paid by scammers in return for her work as a "secret shopper". employees contacted police when they recognized the money orders were forgeries. The woman and her 68-year-old companion thought the fraudulent checks were payment for reviewing the services of Western Union by wiring at least $850 to an address in the Philippines.
"If you're soliciited with an offer that seems too good to be true, it probably is," said Erickson. "There's no such thing as free money."
Car Prowl in Mercerdale/Lucas Hill Neighborhood
A 58-year-old resident of a home on the 7800 block of SE 37th Street reported his unlocked Subaru Legacy was entered overnight and a backpack containing cords, rope and a pair of binoculars was stolen.
Pack of Cyclists Crashes on East Mercer Way
The lead cyclist riding a "pace line" on the 5300 block of northbound East Mercer Way slid and fell on the wet pavement while rounding a curve, causing a chain-reaction crash with two other cyclists at 12:45 p.m. The second cyclist collided with the first after he had slipped on the pavement, and the third fell to the pavement as he tried to avoid the others. The crash caused minor injuries and abrasions to two of the accident victims and head/chest pain to the lead rider.
Vehicle Prowl at Island Square Parking Garage
A 27-year-old Woodinviile man discovered that his Toyota 4Runner was broken into while securely parked at during the Christmas holidays. He reported his fishing gear, sunglasses and iPod — valued at $28,000 — were stolen sometime between Dec. 23-29.
Thief Swipes Garage Door Opener from Vehicle Parked in Driveway
A 69-year-old resident of the 9600 block of SE 34th Street reported someone took several items from his Ford Escape overnight while it was parked in his driveway. He reported a GPS device, vehicle registration, a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses and a garage door opener were stolen at 2:58 p.m., and said the vehicle was like left unlocked.
Passenger Hurt in Town Center Car Accident
A 41-year-old woman driving a Mercedes-Benz ML 320 SUV rear-ended an Audi A4 stopped on westbound SE 27th Street at the intersection with 77th Avenue Southeast at 11:25 p.m. A 64-year-old female passenger of the car struck suffering back pain was treated by Mercer Island EMTs, and the inattentive driver was cited at the scene of the accident.
Car Prowlers Hit Several North-End Homes Near 84th Avenue SE
Victims on the 8200 block of SE 30th Street, 8200 SE 30th Place, and the 8400 block of SE 33rd Place reported someone broke into their unsecured vehicles overnight. In one car prowl, a resident reported several stethoscopes, a Tumi shoulder bag containing an Apple iPad computer and wallet containing several credit cards were taken from a Ford Mustang. In another, a woman reported rented Nissan Altima was missing several Christmas gifts, including a telescope, a Canon digital camera, a diamond bracelet, and Boliva watch.
Burglars Remove TV, Computers From West Mercer Way Home
The resident of a home on the 8100 block of West Mercer Way reported her home had been burglarized between 3:10 and 7:55 p.m. The front door was pried open from the outside and the 52-year-old woman reported two computers and a flat scene TV stolen, valued at $7,250.
Seattle Scofflaw Arrested at Traffic Stop
Police arrested a 28-year-old Seattle driver after he was pulled over on the 7500 block of Interstate 90 for traffic violations at 3:03 a.m. The man was driving his Audi A4 without a valid license and was arrested on multiple arrest warrants issued by authorities.
Arrest Warrant for Local Teen
Police arrested a 19-year-old man at the King County Jail at 5:18 p.m. on a warrant for trespassing and was taken to the Issaquah Jail to await his court arraignment.
Stormy Argument Leads to Arrest of Teenage Son
A 19-year-old Bellingham teen visiting his mother's residence on the 8300 block of 34th Street became enraged and kicked a hole in the wall of a hallway of the home at around 6 p.m. Police later arrested the adult teen in Town Center for malicious mischief and a search of his belongings yielded a fake Pennsylvania ID and two glass jars containing marijuana.
Wrong-Turn Driver Winds up in Ditch
A Bellevue woman driving north on 90th Avenue SE attempted to make a u-turn and accidentally drove her Subaru Outback into a ditch at around 6:30 p.m. A tow-truck was able to pull the car out of the ditch and no injuries were reported.
Man Arrested on Felony Warrant
Police arrested a 46-year-old man at his residence at 8:05 p.m. on the 2400 block of 72nd Avenue SE on a felony arrest warrant issued by off-island authorities.