CASPER, Wyo. — When Charla Burton received the check in the mail, she didn’t question it. An accompanying letter stated that the $2,950 was from her deceased father’s insurance policy, and she was the beneficiary.
Burton’s father passed away in 2009 and was known to have several different accounts and multiple properties around town, she said. The check was issued by the American Certification Institute and had a watermark on it. Eager to pay off bills, she cashed it the day it was received, Sept. 13.
“It was a totally legitimate check,” said the Casper resident.
Burton received notice to the contrary on Wednesday, days after she and her fiance used most of the money as a down payment for their new home.
“The bank called us yesterday and said the check bounced,” she said. “They said it was a fraudulent check, and [they wouldn’t] honor it.”
The fake check bit isn’t a new one, officials say, but the scam has evolved and taken on a variety of shades over the years.
Lt. Mark Sellers said the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office will receive a few reports similar to this each year. Often the original letter will instruct the recipient to send a large sum of money as a “transaction fee,” in order to receive the larger sum of funds.
Burton’s sender failed to mention this in her letter, but an officer told her to expect the request in her mailbox within a few days.
The bank agreed to loan the couple money until they could pay off the debt, but Burton worries about how much interest will be tacked on.
“We had saved up money for our baby,” she said. “We’re $1,900 in the hole now.”
The American Certification Institute is a legitimate business based in Delaware and Washington that does not issue checks. A red alert on the homepage of the company websites warns recipients, “You can be absolutely sure that the check is fraudulent.”
“This is their third attempt at this scam,” said company President LeRoy H. Graw. “I call this the Craigslist scam, because they get their names and points of contact from Craigslist.”
Graw said the scammers originally found his company’s bank information online somehow. They continue to try and use that number, even though the account has been closed for years.
“I guess they’re slow learners,” he said.
Graw said he’s tried reaching out to federal law enforcement, but says they have been either unwilling or unable to do much about it.
“I’d be very happy if the police got involved,” he said. “I’d really like to get this shut down.”