Sun City resident's experience serves as example of mail scam

It began in a simple enough manner. The letter addressed to the elderly resident of Sun City Summerlin was written on a letterhead inscribed with the Reader's Digest logo. It told him that his "lucky number has been approved for a lump sum payout of $500,000 in cash."

Now that'll wake you up, especially after you rub your fingers along the face of the check in the amount of $2,900.50 that came enclosed with the letter. The check, made out to the name of our friend, bore the inscription "AIG Annuity Insurance Company" in the upper left corner, as the sender. The address was a post office box in Amarillo, Texas.

The man read the letter with much excitement, and the more he read, the more enthused he became. Yes, indeed, his ship had arrived, bearing the kind of trove many of us often dream about. After all, Reader's Digest is a reputable, household name, read in languages worldwide. Moreover, sweepstakes and other prize offerings often have been associated with the publication, which was founded in 1922.

As he read on, the exhilaration grew. "The check enclosed has been sent by our insurance company to help you cover any charges that may be required before you receive your funds. You are hereby required to contact your agent, Mr. David Collins, (at a toll-free number) to activate your claim before you deposit the check in your bank. This is important."

Of course it was important. That's because the phone call now moved the con job into high gear. Collins, or whoever the person was that our admittedly gullible senior friend called, "was very convincing. He assured me with such a smooth and friendly voice that this was all on the up and up."

What the voice on the other end said after his congratulatory and laudatory words was that our friend had to deposit the check of $2,900.50, then immediately afterward send a money order in the amount of $1,550 to an agent of the sender. His name was Joseph Williams, at an address in Renton, Wash. The purpose of sending the money order was to "validate the deal," Collins told our friend.

But not to worry, the elderly man was assured, because as soon as the money order to "validate the deal" arrived, a check in the amount of $350,000 (not the $500,000 mentioned in the letter) would be sent to him.

Well, the check for $350,000 did in fact arrive, by way of FedEx priority overnight delivery. Ironically, it arrived on the same day that our friend was notified by his bank that the check for $2,900.50 that he had deposited had bounced.

As for the six-figure check, which also came from the same sender as the rubber check, our friend didn't even bother to deposit it. That would only have incurred a bank charge for another bad check. In addition, the $350,000 check said that two signatures were required for any amount over $250,000. But the check was signed by only one person.

So why did we write this tale of woe, of a man who was clearly bamboozled?

"I got taken for $1,550. It was stupid of me," he said. "The only thing I can do about it is to help anyone else who might get that kind of letter in the mail by urging them to ignore it. Don't fall for the same kind of scam that sucked me in."

My Sun City friend provided me with all the documentation to write this story. He asked for only one thing in return ---- anonymity. "That's because I am so embarrassed at having fallen prey to this fraud," he said.

"These scams are as old as time. It's a form of mail fraud that cries out for the recipient to beware," said Kathy Perkins, crime prevention specialist for the Metropolitan Police Department at the Northwest Area Command, 9850 W. Cheyenne Ave.

"Just ask yourself a very simple question," she said. " 'Why would I get this money?' No one just gives away money like that."

A survey of the Internet reveals similar incidents of swindling throughout the country. Only the names and addresses of the swindlers differed each time.

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His newest novel, "All For Nothing," is now available. Contact him at