Cops warn of check scam
January 6, 2007
The e-mail starts with a purported art buyer fascinated with three pieces for sale at a Park City gallery.
The person says he wants them for a new house in London and that the gallery is "really doing a great job." He tries to arrange a purchase and a month later says in another e-mail that the arrangements are made and a check had been issued.
But the e-mails, two of them, sent at 8:01 a.m. on Nov. 9 and at 10:12 p.m. on Dec. 11, are part of a scam, the Park City Police Department alleges. The police are warning people in Park City to be cautious if they receive similar e-mails
Mike Fierro, a Police Department detective, says the case is one of two similar purported scams in the city in recent weeks.
The other, Fierro says, involved a Park City hotel. In that case, a person in early December wanted to book five or six rooms for most of January, including the Sundance Film Festival.
"This guy was claiming to be in London" and arranging the rooms for his clients, Fierro says.
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People at the art gallery and the hotel were suspicious. Neither followed the person’s instructions and neither suffered losses, Fierro says.
"They had internal measures that said we’re not going to do this," the detective says.
The e-mails provided by the police target the art gallery. On Nov. 2 at 5:02 a.m., the art gallery was sent a message from someone claiming to be from Belmont, Middlesex. The person wants to buy art for what he describes as a home in Middlesex. Using a name of Joel Michael, the person wants the prices and for the art gallery to "kindly get back to me asap."
The next day, at 2:11 a.m., the person sends another e-mail asking about three pieces. He mentions that an associate in America would pick up the art.
"I will have my associate make out payment to you via certified (cashier’s) check drawn on a U.S. bank on my behalf," the person writes, adding that the associate "might as well be interested in making purchases from you on his visit."
In another set of e-mails released by the police, a person using the name Sam Mark makes similar requests. In a Nov. 9 e-mail, at 8:01 a.m., the person claims to have seen "fascinating artworks" on a Web site. The person says "I will be paying you with a Bank Cheque which will be easily cashed at your bank." A little more than a month later, on Dec. 11, the person indicates in an e-mail that the check was issued and the gallery would receive the payment in five to seven days.
" . . . Kindly let me know once the cheque arrive to you, so i can contact my shipping company to contact you for the shipping arrangement as soon as possible," the e-mail says.
Fierro says the person wanted to send the gallery a check written for more than the price of the art. The person asked the gallery to then send the extra money to Vienna, Austria. The approximately $4,000 check arrived in an envelope postmarked in a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa, the detective says.
The check was one made to look like it was from an Ohio oil refinery and the account had closed in 2004, Fierro says, claiming the check was counterfeit.
"There’s always some urgency. We want these right away," Fierro says, adding, "They’re looking for kind of high-end businesses. Certainly our art galleries fit that description."
Fierro warns that businesses not complete a transaction paid for by check, like a merchandise sale or a room reservation, until they are sure the payment is legitimate. The checks should clear both banks first, he cautions.
"Don’t do anything. Don’t send or commit to anything until a check has cleared," Fierro says.