Checking my email after a restless night, one marked “Urgent Message” caught my attention. It was from a person claiming she was an American nun who was under duress in a foreign country and needed help.

The email explained that they were on a mission trip when armed men entered their mission grounds. The men demanded guns, supplies and money. The nun explained that she and her group were all safe for the time, but could not meet these demands without outside help and was requesting my assistance by name.

The group’s leader ordered the children loaded and taken away in the mission’s school bus. They threatened to return one child’s corpse each day the missionaries failed to give in to their demands.

The nun was pleading for help from anyone willing to send money; so I responded with a $100 donation via Western Union as requested. But that was not the end of my involvement. Soon I received a second email thanking me for my generous donation, and it included an update on the children’s status. No harmed had befallen the children, explained the nun. The mission had raised $5,000, which they gave to the hostage-takers.

The so-called nun asked that I serve as their financial agent to collect donations via UPS or FedEx deliveries to my home address. The job was simple; deposit the checks into my bank account and wire the proceeds to their account. The email instructed me to take 10 percent for my help, which I declined.  This choice would prove the smartest decision I could have made throughout this ordeal.

Several checks arrived totaling $300,000, just as the nun said they would and another $100,000 followed until the scheme started to unravel. The scammers were sending me checks that appear as though they were coming from real companies and organizations. They were all made payable to me with a $1,500 check of real money; maybe they now trusted that I would continue wiring money, or perhaps it was to keep the scam going.

It all seemed reasonable, and I wanted to believe that I was doing some good. When the bank informed me that several checks had bounced, I knew that more would follow. I feared that it was all a scam. I learned later that this was dubbed the “Fake Check Scam” and has many variations, all with the same goal, to defraud its victims.

As other checks followed the same path, I had a sick feeling realizing that it was a scam. The nun had tricked me into depositing forged, counterfeited or stolen checks, and I was now on the hook. After the bank’s fraud investigation, they decided that I was an unwitting participant (no charges filed) and closed my account.  

These scammers are part of an elaborate, global, criminal network using technology to steal millions of dollars every year anywhere there is an internet connection. My silver lining was that it only cost me the sum I had in my account, and the bank forgave the difference. I was fortunate; the angels must have been watching over me!

Don’t be a victim

Scammers select their victims based on:

·     Information collected in data breaches, social media and social engineering.

·     Desire to support a particular cause or charity.

·     Empathic, trusting, emotional, or God-fearing nature.

·     Involved in a previous scam may land you on the “Suckers List” even without losses.

·     Belief in something bigger than self, a “Taylor Made Scam” will eventually get you.

·     With the right story and set of circumstances, anyone can fall victim.

·     You are feeling a personal responsibility for helping others out of a tight spot.

Red flags that it might be a scam:

·     A stranger’s plea for help to raise money or handle money transactions on their behalf.

·     Receiving a check that you are asked to deposit into the bank even though you did not earn the money.

·     You are asked to wire deposited proceeds to a stranger’s account.

·     A stranger is using a soft story to provoke an emotional response in you.

·     Instructions to not contact law enforcement or tell anyone what’s going on.

When dealing with a stranger’s request:

·     Become cynical when asked for your financial assistance.

·     If it sounds suspicious, verify before getting involved.

·     Email request from church members for money, verify with the church before giving.

·     Do not give your personal or financial information unless you are sure of the recipient.

·     Ask your bank to verify checks from unknown sources before depositing.

·     You will be on the hook for the full amount if a check you deposit bounces.

Report it

Do not allow embarrassment to silence you after a scam. Report the incident(s) to local law enforcement and the Federal Trade Commission. These agencies rely on people coming forward to tell their story, which enables them to stop this type of crime. Learn more about how the "Fake Check Scam" works.

Call the Pima County Sheriff’s Auxiliary Volunteers with information about scams and frauds. To contact the Scam Squad directly, 9 AM to noon Monday through Friday, call      (520) 351-6715, or email: To report suspicious activity or a particular incident of fraud, call (520) 351-4900.

 If you are interested in becoming a Sheriff's Auxiliary Volunteer, please for an application or call (520) 351-6744.


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