HELENA – A Helena woman thought she found a way to make some extra money on the side but what she actually found was a scam.
Thankfully, Samara Sant Pennartz caught what was going on before it was too late.
Pennartz said she checked her phone one day and found a text from a local number. The message offered her something that, as a part-time driver for rideshare service Uber, she found enticing.
The text said Budweiser was offering a free car wrap, essentially a mobile advertisement that Pennartz could use to supplement her income.
“I’ve seen breweries around town have car wraps. I’ve seen beer companies and i think I’ve even seen a couple of window or copy paper companies that do car wraps,” Pennartz said.
Comforted by seeing other car wraps and wanting to learn more, she sent the unknown texter her name and mailing address. A while later, an envelope arrived in the mail.
“There was no foreign stamps or any bells and whistles, anything that would set off any concern,” Pennartz said.
Inside the envelope was a cashiers check and a letter. The check was marked for nearly $2,000 and looked like a real check, but Pennartz recalled the letter looking suspicious.
“The letter looked like something someone would type up if they were practicing typing,” Pennartz said.
She called Budweiser directly who confirmed her suspicions. The woman from Budweiser said they were aware of what was happening and that the communications were not from the brewing company.
The Budweiser representative advised Pennartz to destroy the documents, which she did – but not before taking pictures.
The Office of Consumer Protection, a division of the Montana Department of Justice, investigates scams exactly like this.
Investigator Marcus Meyer even has a collection of fake checks in his Helena office that OCP now uses to train people to spot fakes.
According to Meyer, these types of scams happen after an unsuspecting victim deposits the fake check, which the scammer will say was more than intended.
“The victim will deposit the check and then be asked to wire the over amount to the scammer,” Meyer said.
Later the bank determines the check is fake and the victim loses the money they sent.
A closer look at the letter Pennartz photographed reveals the scammers asked Pennartz to wire money to an account.
Pennartz said she is glad she spotted the warning signs before it was too late and encourages others to come forward to share their stories to raise awareness.
“Say, ‘this happened. I’m a little embarrassed that I let it get as far as it did. But it does happen to all of us,’” Pennartz said.
OCP says if you have questions about the authenticity of a check, take it to your bank and ask them to look at it before you cash it.
Here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer division to avoid getting scammed:
- Throw away any offer that asks you to pay for a prize or a gift. If it’s free or a gift, you shouldn’t have to pay for it. Free is free.
- Know who you’re dealing with, and never wire money to strangers.
- If you accept payment by check, ask for a check drawn on a local bank, or a bank with a local branch. That way, you can make a personal visit to make sure the check is valid. If that’s not possible, call the bank where the check was purchased, and ask if it is valid. Get the bank’s phone number from directory assistance or an Internet site that you know and trust, not from the check or from the person who gave you the check.
- If the buyer insists that you wire back funds, end the transaction immediately. Legitimate buyers don’t pressure you to send money by wire transfer services. In addition, you have little recourse if there’s a problem with a wire transaction.
- Resist any pressure to “act now.” If the buyer’s offer is good now, it should be good after the check clears.
- For more tips, click here.