CHARLESTON -- West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw recently honored Wayne County resident Earl Walls by presenting him with a Consumer Protection Hero.
The award was given out to commemorate National Consumer Protection Week,which was Feb. 4–10.
A 65-year-old disabled, retired factory worker, Walls lost more than money when he was duped into a Nigerian Internet fake check scheme. On Sept.26, 2006, he was handcuffed, arrested and escorted out of a Wayne County bank. Walls thought he was handling payments from U.S. customers to an acclaimed artist Jack Russell, owner of an art gallery in England.
The scheme began when Walls was contacted on Sept. 2 through an unsolicited e-mail. He was offered a 10 percent commission for each check he processed. He believed he was responding to a legitimate job offer to act as a U.S. agent for "Jack Russell."
On Sept. 15, Mr. Walls received his first Federal Express package containing six traveler's checks in $500 increments. He was instructed to deposit the checks into his bank account and wire cash to Anthony Orekoya, "Jack Russell's" "business associate" in Nigeria. According to Walls, the transaction went smoothly. The teller asked no questions. He was given the cash, which he wired through Western Union to Nigeria.
Several weeks later, Walls attempted to cash checks totaling $4,000. The bank informed Walls that the previous checks were counterfeit. His reputation shattered, he was charged with 12 counts of counterfeiting.
Walls' neighbor Felicia Adams contacted McGraw's office which assisted Walls in having the charges dismissed. Wall's bank accounts and monthly income were frozen when he was arrested. After numerous communications and verification that Walls was a victim of consumer scam and not a counterfeiter, McGraw's office was able to unfreeze his bank account and restore his monthly Social Security payment.
McGraw said if the teller in Walls' situation had taken a few moments to examine the checks he was cashing, the teller would have discovered they were counterfeit.
Nigerian Internet fake check schemes that transfer funds by wire also link such victims to other types of scams. These fraudulent activities include lotteries, sweepstakes, and overcharges from online auctions, sales and deception through the internet including employment and dating websites. Most of these scams originate in Africa, East Asia, and Eastern Europe. Consumers of all ages should take precautions to protect themselves. Senior citizens should take even more care.
People with questions or who have difficulty resolving issues concerning counterfeit checks or schemes can speak with a mediator in the McGraw's Consumer Protection Division by calling 1-800-368-8808.