With Christmas passing and pocket books empty, it’s exciting to receive a check for a large sum of money in the mail.

Mabank resident Olga Contreras recently received a check for $4,200 from the North American Sweepstakes in Newfoundland. A letter enclosed with the check said she had won $100,000 through the North American Sweepstakes Lottery held Oct. 10.

The letter instructed her to deposit the check in her bank account and contact the listed claim agent immediately for instructions on how to pay the taxes through Western Union or Money Gram, so the winnings can be released as soon as possible.

“I was getting all excited,” Contreras said. “It would have been great if it had been real. Fortunately I’m a very skeptical person anyway, so I took it to my bank and asked about it.

“(The teller) told me it was fake and that she’d already seen another check very similar to mine.

“I wanted to let people know this was out there. Some people may not be as suspicious as I am, and this would really hurt someone financially, if they fell for it.”

Franklin Bank Vice President Tere Lawyer said people should be really careful when this sort of thing happens.

“If the letter says to call or contact someone, it’s usually not real,” Lawyer said.

A lot of these things are usually sent from Canada — Contreras’ hand-lettered envelope sported Canadian postage — and other countries, she added.

Franklin Bank, like most banks, will put a hold on funds over a certain amount of money for a few days. Lawyer explained that people are asked by the bogus contest official to withdrawal and send some of the money back to the sender once the hold is up.

“A lot of times the money is withdrawn before the check actually clears. That person is then responsible for the withdrawn money once the check is found to be fraud,” Lawyer explained. “We’ve gotten wise to these things and won’t deposit them anymore.”

First State Bank’s Senior President Dan Dwelle agrees.

“This sort of thing happens all the time. Unfortunately, we get a lot of it and our tellers are pretty accustomed to seeing this,” Dwelle said.

The check is usually sent from a bank that’s not in the same federal reserve district of the recipient’s bank. This causes the check take longer to go through and longer to be found fraudulent. Dwelle said this makes it tough for a bank to find out if the check is valid before the money is withdrawn.

For example, you deposit a check for $500 and your bank account had $1,000, Dwelle explained, “Once our bank is notified that there is no such bank (the bank indicated on the check), that amount of money is then taken out of your account,” Dwelle said. “That person is then responsible for the money.”

Lawyer and Dwelle both advised that if someone does receive a check or cashiers’ check from somewhere questionable and it’s deposited, not to spend the money until the check is verified.

Chances are, the check is not good, Dwelle said.

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