Columbia Resident's Money Order Scam Prompts Warning

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COLUMBIA - A Columbia woman believes she almost got caught in a money order scam, something bankers and the attorney general are warning consumers to be cautious about.

Marie Mendenhall said she received a letter with a money order of more than $900 dollars, asking her to be a mystery shopper.

"It's crazy. I've never gotten anything like this," she said.

The directions were to cash the money, keep $150 of it, and send the rest to the address listed in the letter.

She was immediately skeptical, Mendenhall said. "It was all really, really sketchy, and I wasn't comfortable with it."

Mendenhall said she didn't know of this scam. When she went to Commerce Bank to ask about the letter, they said a number of people come in with the same issue.

The bank's executive president, Valerie Shaw said, "They'll send you a check and they'll say, you keep $200 and send us $800."

Mendenhall said the bank told her the scammers might have targeted her after she updated her online profiles.

"They get our names from Facebook, or if I'm Googling for new jobs and things like that, because I was Googling different things that I wanted to do, they get all my information."

Mendenhall said she had just changed all her information in one of the career source magazines, and it had been a while since she had done that.

"All of a sudden, I had done it two weeks, three weeks prior to that. Then I got that letter," said Mendenhall

Shaw said that such scams are not directed to one certain group, and can happen to anyone at any age.

Another key thing to look out for with these scams is a feeling of urgency, she said.

"Anytime you are pressured into taking an item you are unfamiliar with to your bank, or if somebody puts pressure on you to hurry up an do something, to do it quickly, not to tell anyone. Sometimes these letters say ‘Don't tell anyone, this is a secret'. Be really suspicious about that," Shaw said.

Mendendall said since the scam, she is nervous about her online identity, and takes extra care when online.

"I'm a little leery. I haven't gotten back on those websites cause I'm just kind of careful about that. I've always been really careful with Facebook, I keep a really good lock on it. The only ones I have contact with are by daughters, but I feel that's pretty safe."

The attorney general says that these types of scams are the most common, and are cracking down to catch the scammers.

"We have to build cases against these scammers," Joe Bindbeutel said. "One, or two, or three complaints are very difficult to prosecute. If we have patterns and we can piece it together with the information consumers give us, we can take affective action against these scammers."

Bindbeutel said people file more than 120,000 complaints a year, and they can come through both regular mail and email. Scammers may even use real names and logos to make the scam look for legitimate.

Some tips to prevent being part of a scam include:
• Be wary of mailed money orders.
• Don't wire money to strangers.
• File a complaint with the attorney general
• Look out for offers that are too good to be true

The attorney general's website has a place to file an online complaint.