'Steve Daniels' scam

February 14, 2008 8:00:06 PM PST
A scam targeting people here in the Triangle is hitting close to home for ABC11. It's a letter from a "Steve Daniels" saying you've won the lottery.

Naturally, our Steve Daniels wanted to investigate it and find out who's trying to rip-off our viewers.

The viewer that got in touch with Eyewitness News didn't take the bait but he's afraid other people will.

"I opened it up and was like, we done won the jackpot here! You know, teased my wife about it and then saw that you had signed it supposedly," says Rick McLean, wondering if it was his lucky day. He received a letter from the Centre Insurance Finance Company saying he won $27,875 and a Caribbean cruise.

There's a check in the letter from a Citibank account for $2,975 so Rick doesn't have to pay the "service charge" and "international clearance fees" out of his own pocket.

The letter's signed, "Sincerely yours, Steve Daniels.

Steve Daniels: "It looks like free money."
Rick McLean: "It does, yeah."
Steve Daniels: "It looks like you've won the jackpot."
Rick McLean: "Yeah! And, I thank you for it. You signed the sheet. You're apparently the president of the corporation."

Rick figured it was too good to be true.

"I thought I'd contact you cause I thought they were using it since your name is familiar in this area," says Rick McLean.

We started trying to track down the people behind the scheme by looking at Rick's envelope. The return address is in Western Canada-Victoria BC. Turns out, it's a large mall and a dead-end for us.

There's also a phone number on the letter. It's the 705 area code. That's north of Toronto but the number is disconnected.

"We quickly discovered the only way to really hunt for the people sending out these letters would be to come to Canada. This is Montreal, it's considered the international headquarters for these kinds of scams," says Steve Daniels in Canada.

Sgt. Yves LeBlanc is with Project Colt, a task force set up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that includes nine Canadian and U.S. law enforcement agencies.

Sgt. LeBlanc says they're complicated investigations.

"This is what they're doing nowadays. In the past year or two, we've seen hundreds of thousands of these letters," says Sgt. LeBlanc.

In fact, Project Colt has just intercepted 50 thousand letters before they arrived in the U.S. We found other letters from "Steve Daniels" in stacks in the office.

"They basically pick names that they want, in this case they used Steve Daniels," says Sgt. LeBlanc. He continued, "Now they may have just been watching TV and saw Steve Daniels and said 'hey, let's use his name in our next letter.'"

We asked Sgt. LeBlanc if the letter contained any clues in the phone number.

"It's a pre-paid phone that they use, with this number, so there's no phone records, there's no billing records, it could be registered under a bogus name, there's no address, there's nothing to follow up on," says Sgt. Leblanc.

The scam is familiar to Sgt. LeBlanc. Victims are told they'll receive their "lottery winnings" within days. But first, they have to deposit the $3,000 check and send that same amount out of their own checking account to the con-men.

"It is a bogus check and by the time the victim deposits the check in their account, it'll take 7-10 days to clear and by that time they've already sent an amount to the bad guys," said Sgt. LeBlanc.

Victims end up losing thousands of dollars and the lottery prize never shows up.

"If someone's trying to get you to send money, to receive money, there's a big red flag there. You shouldn't have to send one red cent to receive a prize or a winning," says Sgt. LeBlanc.

Back in the Triangle, Rick McLean didn't take the bait.

"We knew it was a joke from the beginning," said Rick McLean. He continued, "Luck don't happen that easy."

It turns out the phone number on our letter was disconnected by Project Colt after it intercepted other letters from "Steve Daniels". Project Colt says they have returned millions of dollars to victims across America. For more information on how not to become a victim, check out part two of this series.


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