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With scammers on the prowl, be careful of 'great deals'

It looked like a fast track to quick cash.

A packet seeming to be from Argent Management Co. arrived in the mail last month, asking an Atwater man to be a consumer survey specialist.

He’d be paid $300 each time he wired money across the nation and reviewed Western Union’s service.

Simple.

Along with a blank evaluation form, a $2,950 check made out to him was enclosed. It had Wachovia’s logo and the business’ name, which is a legitimate operation based out of Connecticut.

The man, smelling something funny, turned the packet over to the Merced County District Attorney’s Office so that others could be warned.

“It’s a beautiful setup, as scams go,” Supervising Investigator Wayne Hutton said. “It’s the most professionally done and easiest to fall into.”

Mail scams often seem to go in cycles, region to region, and Merced County may be targeted to see if any residents fall for the scheme, Hutton said.

“They hit an area, and then move on to another field to see what the game’s like,” he said.Every month the office gets about five to six complaints because of various scams, he added.

The crooks are often based outside the country, so there’s little investigators can do except tell victims or suspicious residents to contact the Internet Complaint Center, a joint effort between the Department of Justice and the White Collar Crime Center.

The crux of this scam and other similar ones is that the victim cashes the check, which will bounce, and loses money when he wires it across the country or world.

Hutton said the employment offer, the colored check and using real business names are twists that may make more people think it’s legitimate.

He’s worried about other scams that are even more brazen. One popular scheme targets older and poorer residents. A handyman will tell a homeowner that he can repaint their home for about $500, which would usually cost thousands.

The scammer, Hutton explained says he has too much paint and needs to use it up quickly. The only catch is that he needs cash.

Once the money trades hands, he’s never seen again and probably moves on to another Valley city, Hutton said.

Scammers are difficult to catch, so the best way to fight them is by remind residents that if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

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