MOUNT VERNON, Iowa - The Mount Vernon Post Office helped foil a scam that involved hundreds of thousands of dollars in fake checks.
Over two days in November, the office received 131 express mail envelopes. Some came from the Cornell College mail room; others were dropped off. It all looked suspicious to a clerk, who contacted her boss.
"There were some red flags that she noticed when they came in, that didn't seem right," said Postmaster Kim Raim.
Raim said the large quantity of envelopes was odd, also that the shipping labels couldn't be scanned, and return addresses were from a local medical clinic.
"We talked about it and called the postal inspectors," said Raim.
Those inspectors got approval to look inside the envelopes and found about $300,000 dollars' worth of fake checks. Postal Inspector Ron Jewell said they were intended for people being scammed in a variety of ways across the country.
"Unbeknownst, the check is going to bounce and the money they wired away is just pure profit," said Jewell.
A Cornell student was sending the fake checks, but Jewell said she was being conned too. Scammers enlisted her help on Craigslist by telling her she would do payroll for a legitimate business, and then sent her blank check stock.
"The reason they recruit people to mail these out is that it lowers that flag. Mailing is not coming from Nigeria, or Morocco, or the U.K., or Canada. It's somebody here in the U.S. that's being duped," said Jewell.
Jewell thinks inspectors caught all of the fraudulent checks before they reached their intended recipients. He said the quick action of the employees at the post office potentially saved a lot of people from financial harm.
"I'm happy that nobody was hurt, because they could really get hurt," said Raim.
The next step will be to track down the people behind the fake checks, which officials said won't be easy.
Postal inspectors believe scammers are from Nigeria. Jewell said they've given the case to a special task force, which is still investigating.