Briefing Room: a sophisticated scam

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Logo courtesy of Seal Beach PD

Hi Seal Beach,

Last week was a busy week for us. With St. Patrick’s Day and Run Seal Beach happening during the same week, we were pretty busy with the planning and staffing for these special events. I’m happy to report that there were no major issues during either of these events!

For this week, although we didn’t receive any questions, we did become aware of a sophisticated scam that one of our College Park East residents experienced. I have never heard of a scam like this occurring, so we wanted to take the time to share the details with all of you. Hopefully, this will help prevent others from becoming victims to this or similar scams.

Here is a synopsis of the events from the victim (I will not publish the victim’s name for privacy reasons):

Last week, a package was left on a porch in CPE. It was address to the resident, was sent via USPS 2-Day Priority Mail with a tracking number and appeared completely legitimate.

“Inside the package was a letter from a company called Abandoned Property Advisors, LLC. The letterhead looked official (even used color printing), including a street address in New Jersey, a website, and a phone number that we could call to ask any questions we might have. The letter stated that the company has “been engaged to locate and contact US Bank account holders whose accounts are coded as dormant and/or inactive.” It does not specify by whom they had been engaged to perform this task, however it was specific to US Bank. The letter continues to describe an account with a specified value that matches an actual account my mother opened some time ago (the account value has changed somewhat since opening it, but the opening amount matches the figure in the letter). The letter states that this company can recover the account with “no upfront costs” with the expectation of receiving the assets within 60 days after providing them with the requested documents to be sent back to them in the provided, postage pre-paid USPS First Class return envelope (also with a legitimate tracking number). The language of the letter was clear with proper spelling, syntax, and grammar, and the materials in the package also contained enough legal jargon to sound legitimate.

Though there are “no upfront costs,” upon “recovering” the funds, the company will keep 10% as their fee for services provided. Of course, the letter describes utilizing their services as “voluntary” and “optional” at different points in the document. Also, of course, the requested information includes social security number and date of birth, as well as a copy of the photo ID (front and back). There are other items requested should the account belong to a trust or to someone who is deceased. Oh, and the Authorization Form that was to be filled out and returned also had a barcode with an official case number.

We did a search for this company on the internet, and it is a company registered with the Better Business Bureau with the given address on the letterhead. The phone number did not appear to be legitimate, however, as the BBB lists a different phone number for this company. In addition, a reverse search for the number yields no results. We also found it odd that the requested information was to be returned to them to a P.O. Box in Southeastern Pennsylvania when the company is based in and postage was purchased in New Jersey.

Understandably, when my mother opened this package, she had a small panic attack, fearing that the account had been frozen for some reason. She is a woman in her 70s. I reminded her that she continues to receive paper statements for this account (though not consistently, as mail is often delivered incorrectly in the neighborhood), and that the bank would inform her should there be a problem with the account, not some third party looking for a cut.

I suggested we take the package to her bank the following day to check on the account’s status, close the account and move the funds into a new account, given that someone obviously had too much information about her current account. The teller and customer relations representative we spoke with at the bank were both horrified when shown the materials. They made copies of everything, helped my mother by closing the account and moving the funds to a new account with some added security measures and flags in their system, told us that we should file a report with the local Police Department so they have the information on file, and referred the case to their legal department. A representative from the bank’s legal department phoned my mother the following morning and told her that she did everything right, and that we should report this attempted fraud scheme to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau so that it can be added to their database.”

The resident contacted the PD and we took a police report. Regrettably, these types of scams happen all the time and as you can read here, are becoming more sophisticated. The problem is that there isn’t much that we can go on in terms of investigating this incident. Although the “company” appeared to be located either in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, the suspects responsible for this could be located anywhere in the world. Scammers frequently change contact information, telephone numbers, addresses, and other ways and methods of tracking them down. This means that investigators come to dead ends when attempting to locate these individuals.

Honestly, the best way to protect against these types of scams is to be educated. This is where we need your help. Please tell your parents, friends, neighbors, and anyone willing to listen about these types of scams. Bottom line, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. When in doubt, please call us. Our officers would be happy to look over the materials and help you determine if the information is legitimate or a scam. Our non-emergency number is (562) 594-7232.

For more information on protecting yourself from scams, please visit the United States Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website at https://www.consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/fraud/.

Keep your question coming Seal Beach! Email us at askacop@sealbeachca.gov today!

Briefing Room: a sophisticated scam