BELPRE - An international scam has reached the Mid-Ohio Valley and one area resident has lost hundreds of dollars, an official said.
"An online research company is asking people to do a survey on Western Union at several chain stores and scaming money out of people," said patrolman Mike Stump with the Belpre Police Department.
Stump said a Belpre Township resident filed a report with his office against the company known as NPD Research Inc., but there is little local law enforcement can do.
"While the letter said that it comes from Port Washington, N.Y., but the company is really based out of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, which makes this an international incident," he said. "Also, by cashing the fraudulent check, they are entering into a contractual agreement and anything that happens is their responsibility."
The letter including a check, apparently sent from the marketing research company, directs those selected as a secret or mystery shopper to contact the company via phone to confirm the money was received before depositing the funds in their personal bank account.
The money can be as much as $2,400. Once the money is deposited the person is told he has 48 hours to take out as much as $2,100 of that money to wire via Western Union at stores, including Kmart, Wal-Mart and Best Buy.
Once the money transfers and other relayed assignments are completed, the shopper is told to fax all receipts to a designated number.
"It is only later, after bank accounts are frozen, that people realize the scam," Stump said. "These people are being told they will be able to keep $300 and really they are losing $2,100 because the money order or cashier's check they were sent is fraudulent."
The check sent to the Belpre Township woman came from a bank in Phoenix, Ariz., but it turns out the bank does not have its own money orders or cashier's checks and those sent out are fakes made by NPD Research for the scam, Stump said.
"What happens is these people have cashed fake checks and by doing so they are responsible for the money taken out of their accounts," he said.
If anyone receives correspondence from NPD Research or another company claiming to offer money for little to no work, Stump said to be wary.
"If it sounds too good to be true, it is," he said. "If someone is sending you a check and asking you to send someone you don't know, or even do know, money, it's probably fake."
Stump said that if you are curious about a possible scam and want to make sure the money is real, check the phone number given and use Internet search sites to check the validity.
"(Check) these companies online," he said. "Check Scam Book or even Google if you aren't sure the company is real, but 99 percent of the time, it's fraud."