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May 17, 2007 Issue

Too good to be true: Scams busted
Audit finds county 911 certifications out of date
Judge to be officially reprimanded

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Too good to be true: Scams busted

Bank warns that fake checks have hit area

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

“Congratulations. On behalf of the entire staff of SWEEPSTAKESEVERYDAY Canada, we write to announce the good news to you today. Please be informed that you are one of the declared 60 winners in our last sweepstakes lottery held this month here in Canada. We have enclosed a check for $4,900 as a part of your winnings to enable you to sort out the required tax. You have five days to deposit this check, pay your tax and receive the rest of your winning amount.

We will appreciate it if you will keep all correspondence strictly confidential to avoid unnecessary fraud and double claim.”

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Though the lottery is SWEEPSTAKESEVERYDAY Canada, the check is from the Lutheran Social Services of New York.

If you ask yourself why, then you are on the right track.

Lately the southeast, including the state of Georgia has been saturated with scams where citizens receive a check, but they must send back about $2,000 in taxes to claim the rest of their prize.

The opening statement is just a taste of what the Federal Bureau of Investigations claims is a way for drug traffickers or terrorists to filter money outside of the United States.

“If you go to security meetings, the FBI believes that this type of fraud is being used to take money out of this country for two reasons, for drugs or terrorism,” Queensborough National Bank and Trust Security Officer Paul Turner said.

“There are probably a few that use these scams as a job.”

According to Turner, the scam checks are easy to make and are often used to fool citizens, especially the elderly, and sometimes even bank tellers.

“A lot of people I see [taken in by the scam] so many times are the elderly,” Turner said.

“I don’t know how they target them. “The tellers at every bank are charged with an awesome responsibility to identify the checks.

Is it a good check or bad check?” The reason it is so hard for citizens and even bank authorities to tell if a check is real, is because of the availability of products in the consumer market that crooks can use to counterfeit these checks, including the paper and machines that add the routing and account numbers at the bottom of the checks.

One Jefferson County citizen received notice saying they had won the SWEEPSTAKESEVERYDAY Canada lottery with a check from the Lutheran Social Services of New York.

“When I saw it, I said scam, scam, scam,” Charlie Cofer said recently of the letter he received in a hand addressed envelope. “Nobody sends anything for nothing.

“The fact that they wanted me to cash the check and send part of it back was the giveaway.”

Though it is the first scam letter he received, Cofer said that he knew they were trying to get him to believe it was real through saying the check was from the Lutheran Social Services.

“They try to get people with the good cause,” Cofer said.

Turner said that many of the scams he has seen involves a European, Australian or Canadian lottery.

“I think people get so excited, ‘I have won something, I have won half a million dollars,’” Turner said. “If they truly had won a lottery, the lottery is going to withhold any taxes and give the difference to the winner. Think, why are they sending you too much? If I only owe $2,000 in taxes, then why are they sending a $4,000 check?

“I have so many samples of these scams it is enough to choke a cat. There is not a day that goes by that I don't get FDIC warnings.”

Not only are businesses and citizens not safe from these scams, banks too are finding more and more that their checks are also being used as fakes.

“When I was growing up, bank cashiers checks were the real McCoy, but that is not true anymore,” Turner said.

Citizens Bank of Sandersville faced a problem recently when more than $87,000 in cashiers’ checks were counterfeited in the Midwest.

“In talking to Citizens Bank, they do not issue official cashiers’ checks,” Turner explained. “These people went online captured the bank’s logo, cut and pasted it onto printing software and printed the fake checks.”

Turner also noted that the scam artists usually issue the fake checks in areas where the business or bank is not located.

“They have a better chance to create a check from one region and mail it to another,” he said. “They realize people in that market might recognize the business.”

Turner said though he is not sure how the counterfeiters get citizens’ names, he does believe there are lists with names and addresses out there. Including if someone signs up for or purchases something on the Internet or even if they sell anything on eBay, they may receive payment with fake postal money orders like a bank customer in Waynesboro who sold a motorcycle.

Turner also noted that VISA and American Express checks are also being counterfeited.

“They can produce a check with almost 100 percent accuracy,” Turner said. “They will even go as far as to be sure to get the paper to have little holograms on it. They will make it close enough to make the customer believe it. No one is immune to this. If you write a check, there is a possibility that some day someone will counterfeit it.”

“But you have to have your guard up. If you get something out of the blue and you have not participated, ask why.”

Many times in asking the people who receive the letters, the scammers will ask them to Western Union the money to cover taxes. Turner said that scammers will usually want the money sent out of the country.

“The wires can literally just jump from country to country and tangle up a web so tight that officials can’t tell,” he said. “It is not like they are moving millions or even hundreds of thousands that are getting watched. These are small little wires, so it does not catch a lot of red flags.

“But if the money does go out of the country by Western Union, there is a two day wait.

If you feel you have been scammed, if you would just come forward and say, ‘I think I am the victim of a scam,’ then you have two days before they will release the money. But the problem is that most people are too embarrassed to admit it.”

Local law enforcement told him searching for the scammers is like “looking for needles in a haystack.” He recommend that if the citizen is going to throw the scam mail away, make sure they shred it.

“Citizens need to ask themselves questions,” Turner said.

“If they have suffered a loss, they should go to the police.

We have had some customers who have negotiated checks with scammers and have lost part of that money. We tell them to report it to the police.

“Though they are overwhelmed with this and it happens every day of the week, there is a little time frame.”



Audit finds county 911 certifications out of date

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

An audit on May 8 and 9 by the Georgia Crime Information Center, a branch of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, of Jefferson County’s 911 system showed seven of 11 operators to be out of date on their certification, according to Maj. Charles Gibbons of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

According to John Bankhead, Director of Public Affairs for the GBI, every agency with a terminal that has access to the GCIC is audited every three years.

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“It was a standard GCIC audit of the sheriff’s department,” Bankhead said.

“It’s a dispatch center and GCIC was over there, which is routine.

They audit every agency just about.

It’s just a routine audit. It was not an investigation.”

Bankhead said the process of reviewing the audit takes about three months to complete and, therefore, he said, could not address any specifics of the audit.

“If there are any issues that need to be resolved, the agency has a certain amount of time, if there are any, to make corrections,” he said.

“Nobody goes through an audit where you don’t find something.”

Gibbons addressed those issues.

“911 had some problem areas that were identified in the audit,” he said.

“The necessary steps are being taken to correct that.

As we speak, the women are working hard to make the necessary adjustments to correct that.

The sheriff is aware of everything that’s going on.

He has instructed me to make the necessary corrections that need to be done and I am doing that diligently and faithfully.”

Jefferson County Administrator Paul Bryan said, “I just know an audit was conducted as is normal over time. I know that we were written up but it’s normal that you get written up. I have spoken with the sheriff about that very thing this morning.”

Bryan said audits always show deficiencies that need to be addressed and that is why audits are held – to identify those deficiencies so they can be corrected.

“I know there were some issues about certifications and that’s all I know,” Bryan said.

“I do know that we have a 911trainer coming in from Greene County, we’ve been working with them in the past on many of our 911 issues.”

Gibbons said some of the certifications were not updated but at no time was the 911 center closed or prevented from continuing to operate.

“The certifications were not updated,” he said. “All this is being taken care of.”

“They (GCIC) don’t shut down anything until there’s a blatant intent to not comply with a GCIC rule,” Bankhead said. “And that is rare. Nothing about this whole scenario is unusual.”

“You can probably go to every sheriff’s office in the state of Georgia and find something. And I’m glad we had this. We know now what we need to do,” Gibbons said.

“We’ve never been shut down. I think that’s what happened. Somebody spread the rumor that we were shut done. We were never shut down. I’ve got my most trusted officer right here and she’s keeping me notified and she’s keeping the sheriff notified of everything that’s going on.”

Gibbons said the audit identified not only the center’s weak areas but also the strong areas.

“They didn’t criticize us,” he said. “The lady who came down was very helpful to us. We’re going to do what’s right for the citizens of this county. That’s who we work for.”



Judge to be officially reprimanded

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

Monday, the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission issued a press release stating that Glascock County Magistrate Judge Misty May would be publicly reprimanded during court selection for a traverse jury Monday, May 21, at 9:30 a.m. in the courtroom at the Glascock County Courthouse. Judicial Qualifications Commission’s Executive Director Cheryl F. Custer said Monday that Chief Judge Roger W. Dunaway Jr. will administer the reprimand pursuant to the Rule 4(e) of the Rules of the JQC and the terms of an agreed upon disposition of the investigation by the JQC into a complaint filed against Judge May. May said Tuesday that the complaint was filed by the Glascock County Commissioners because of findings in a 2005 audit by Jones, Jones, Davis and Associates.

“We feel that the items enumerated deserve immediate attention,” the 2005 audit stated. “Current bookkeeping practices in this office make it difficult, if not impossible, to properly audit the receipts and disbursements of the office.

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We believe that acceptance of the recommendations will help establish practical and workable control mechanisms by which management and documentation of this office’s transactions can be greatly improved.”

May explained that the reports must be filed every 30 days and admitted that sometimes her reports were past due on several occasions. She also said that she was in violation of not making deposits on time. “I chose to be held accountable for my actions due to a violation with Rule 4(e) pertaining to the administrative duties not being completed in a timely manner,” May said adding that she planned to get past this next Monday and move on in doing her job.

May said this is the first time she had been reprimanded and she chose to have the public reprimand instead of filing an appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. She also stated that the investigation began into this “factual violation about a year and a half ago.

“I could have appealed it to the Supreme Court to review the investigation,” she said. “I chose not to go any further because the facts are the facts.”

May said this is the second time in two years a judge in the district had to be reprimanded, alluding to the public reprimand for the Magistrate Judge in McDuffie County two years ago after he was charged with driving under the influence.

May explained that Jones, Jones, Davis and Associates must report their findings to not only the commissioners, but also to the state.

“It was up to the commissioners to file a complaint,” she said. “And they chose to go ahead and file the complaint with the JQC.”

In September 2005, Glascock County Commission Chairman Anthony Griswell said that after the audit, they found that the money passing through the court was not tracked as thoroughly as it needed by the magistrate’s office.

“There was no money missing,” Commission Griswell said at the meeting. “The findings were more on how the books were kept.”

According to the county clerk, Jones, Jones, Davis and Associates was not completely finished with the county’s audit, but felt that their findings in the magistrate office needed to be dealt with as soon as possible.

They also offered recommendations to the court to solve problems they saw during the audit.

Magistrate Court Judge Misty May presented Glascock Commissioners with steps that the court would take to correct each of the six findings from the audit during a commission meeting after Jones, Jones, Davis and Associates notified commissioners of their findings.

“On behalf of the Magistrate Court of Glascock County, I as Chief Magistrate, with assistance from the Administrative Office of the Courts and the increase of office hours, will strive to keep future financial information as well as civil/criminal docketed/receipted cases handled in a timely and more orderly fashion,” May said in a statement to commissioners at the September 2005 monthly meeting.

Griswell said that commissioners received steps taken to “rectify the audit,” and after studying the steps, they will talk at a called meeting or the next monthly meeting. Then with the consensus of the board, corrective measures will be taken, he said.

In its first recommendation, the auditor recommends that the court should pay all plaintiffs in the same manner and that the policies and procedures should be applied equally to all the court’s participants.

To comply with the recommendation, May said that the court should pay all plaintiffs in the same manner. The local as well as the non-local plaintiffs will be paid by the 10th of the following month that funds are collected. No plaintiff locally will be able to pick up funds before the 10th of the following months in which the funds were collected.

The first finding included that the court’s bank account was overdrawn during the year. The audit states that eight checks were presented to the bank that overdrew the account in December 2004, but were paid by the bank because the court was considered a “preferred customer.”

Also in the finding, three checks were presented during the same month overdrawing the account because of insufficient funds.

“In a properly run office of this type, there would never be a situation where the bank account was overdrawn,” the audit stated.

“The bank account of the court was overdrawn only once in 2004 in December due to the acceptance of personal checks by two separate defendants who had insufficient funds in their accounts,” May said in a response to the audit. “Eight checks were presented to the bank which overdrew the account but were paid by the bank due to the preferred customer status of the court. Although this has never been a problem before, the court will no longer accept personal checks as a form of payment so as to prevent this from happening again. All bank reconciliations will be completed in a timely manner with an up-to-date bank balance for the checking account.”

The second finding according to the audit noted that cash receipt tickets were sometimes issued out of sequence. May said she was trying to use leftover receipts, but since the audit’s findings have been brought to her attention, she has ordered new receipts that will not have missing pages and any voided receipts will be attached to the monthly receipt page.

In the audit’s third finding, Jones, Jones, Davis and Associates noted instances when funds were not recorded in a timely manner. May said funds would no longer be accepted at any other location other than the office of the court during regular business hours because of the problem of not only being responsible for monies due to the court but also for the funds to be receipted in a timely manner.

“There were instances when a defendant would bring in or mail a personal check made payable to the plaintiff instead of the Magistrate Court,” May said in her response. “That check would be forwarded to the plaintiff.”

The fourth finding involved an instance of a receipt issued for an amount other than what was received on that date.

May noted that this occurred when a defendant paid an amount to the court in two different forms of payment and there should have been two separate receipts.

Jones, Jones, Davis and Associates recorded numerous extended delays from the time the Magistrate Court received funds until they were deposited into the bank. Some documented delays in depositing funds were up to and beyond three months.

“The limited time in the office for incoming clients and/or telephone calls to conduct business did not permit any set time or daily routine to complete paperwork to include deposits as needed therefore causing delays,” May responded.

She said the implementation plan that includes daily deposits and timely payouts, along with the May’s change to full-time status, will prove to be corrective steps that will lead to the office running as it should.

The last finding found that funds deposited for the court were unable to be matched with the composition of funds received either by cash or check. Many instances were noted when deposits were made with only checks or only cash.

May said a new column on the receipt page stating cash or check will be added.

At the end of their finding, Jones, Jones, Davis and Associates suggest the Magistrate Court have an imprest (petty cash) fund of up to $50 to make change in the court. May said she would have a $25 imprest fund for the court.




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