Thursday, March 10, 2005

Forgery case tied
to online deception

A Chinese student is held
for presenting a fake money
order sent from Nigeria

A Hawaii Pacific University graduate student who was duped by the latest version of the Nigerian scam was arrested under suspicion of five counts of forgery after attempting to cash counterfeit money orders earlier this week, police said.

The student, a 31-year-old man, is originally from China and has no prior arrest record. Police said he attempted to cash five fake money orders Tuesday at the post office at 1170 Nuuanu Ave. Each money order was for $950.

However, when a clerk saw the fake money orders, he immediately noticed several security features were missing, including a watermark with the picture of Benjamin Franklin, no magnetic strips and the wrong color around the borders of the money orders.

That was when the clerk called police, who arrested the suspect for investigation of five counts of first-degree forgery, a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

"He was scared but very cooperative," said officer Romel Layco, who made the arrest. "I asked him if he knew why he was being detained, and he just put his hands to his head and started shaking his head."

The suspect was later released pending an investigation.

The incident highlights a nationwide problem for post offices, in which more and more people are coming in to cash fake money orders they receive from online Nigerian scam artists.

This latest scam involves contacting people through the Internet, who are then told a Nigerian has postal money orders, cashier's checks or traveler's checks and needs people to cash them in the United States. The money orders are then mailed to the people, who are told to cash them and deposit them in their personal bank accounts, with the victims being offered a percentage of the money to keep for themselves.

"Over the past, say, four to six months, we've definitely seen a dramatic increase in counterfeit money orders," said U.S. Postal Service Inspector John Watanabe, "and, by and large, most of them involve some sort of Nigerian contact."

In this case, police said the suspect had come into contact with a woman whom he met online who said American money orders were no good in Nigeria, so he was attempting to help her by cashing the money orders for her. Watanabe said he knows of about a dozen related Nigerian scam money-order cases here in Honolulu and asks that people be wary.

Or, at the very least, that they check to see if the money order is real.

"People can go up to the post office and ask, 'Is this authentic?'" Watanabe said. "Or they can check for themselves. It's as easy as holding the money order up to the light and looking for the Benjamin Franklin watermark on the left side. ... He should be in a beige oval."

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