Police warn of money scam

Scheme involves 'travel agent' contacting local businesses

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The Routt County Sheriff's Office is warning businesses about a scam aimed at robbing victims of thousands of dollars.

Sgt. Ray Birch said Tuesday that his office, in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is investigating reports of a money order scheme that targeted at least two local businesses.

Birch would not say which two Routt County businesses reported the fraud but said one was a lodging business and one was a consumer products business. The fraud reports were made between Thursday and Tuesday.

The FBI has received similar reports from several Northwest Colorado businesses.

Birch said the fraud usually begins with a "travel agent" sending e-mails to businesses requesting a reservation for a client.

Birch said the lodging business that reported receiving the e-mail said the travel agent requested lodging for a couple on their honeymoon.

The travel agent then sent the couple's payment overnight in the form of a money order, Birch said.

The business received the money order, except it was for an extra $4,000 or so. Birch said the travel agent then contacted the business after the business owner deposited the money order and requested the business owner send back the surplus money.

"(The suspects) will tell the business owner they made a mistake and accidentally sent too much money and will then ask for it back. They seem to incorporate the 'We trust you with our money' thing," he said.

Birch said the fraud gets the business owner when he or she returns the surplus money and then finds seven to 10 days later that the money order was fraudulent, putting the business owner out of the amount he or she sends back to the "travel agent." The money orders appear to be legitimate.

Birch said business owners can best detect the scam by analyzing the e-mails requesting such reservations. "The content of the messages are very poorly written. They use poor English and grammar," Birch said.

Birch said that is because the origin of the fraud is beyond U.S. borders, though he does not know from which country.

Birch said even though he has confirmed the fraud is originating from out-of-country residents, the individual or individuals responsible for the fraud have sources in the U.S. to use as reference points and to process the money.

The investigation has found the suspects are using return addresses in Maine and New Jersey, Birch said.

Birch said business owners should be suspicious of any payments that are made for extremely high amounts, especially if the amount of the bill is only a few hundred dollars.

Businesses owners and employees are encouraged to contact the Routt County Sheriff's Office or other local law enforcement agencies if they suspect any suspicious e-mails or payments.

-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234 or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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