The cashier’s check that comes in the mail looks real. So did the unsolicited offer to become a “mystery shopper.” The toll-free phone number printed across the bottom of the check is answered by a pleasant-sounding woman who says, “SouthCity Bank,” the name listed on the check.

The cashier’s check that comes in the mail looks real. So did the unsolicited offer to become a “mystery shopper.”

The toll-free phone number printed across the bottom of the check is answered by a pleasant-sounding woman who says, “SouthCity Bank,” the name listed on the check.

She asks for the printed account numbers, then announces that sufficient funds are in the account.

The bank location is listed as Vestavia Hills, Ala. Ask the woman where the bank is located, and she insists it’s in South City, Ala.

There is no South City, Ala.

And that’s a warning sign.

The SouthCity Bank in Vestavia Hills has been receiving 20 to 30 calls per day from at least 18 states since April 29 — all from people who received the same cashier’s check for $4,984 — all fraudulent checks, said Lisa Gill, bank secrecy act officer for SouthCity Bank in Vestavia Hills.

Vinc Gatlin of Canton, Ohio, is one of those callers.

A truck driver in search of a job, Gatlin visits a local employment agency and scans the Internet daily in search of employment. On Saturday, he received a letter from a company identifying itself as Perceptive Service Research, a “mystery shopper” company that works with employment agencies.

The letter asks its recipient to cash the check and use the money to complete a series of tasks that include making a $50 purchase from Wal-Mart, a $40 purchase from either Target or the Gap, pay a $130 service fee, pay a $50 Moneygram service fee and make two other transfers. One involves a Western Union transfer of some of the remaining money and the other involves Moneygram International.

But the amounts for the Western Union transfer and the Moneygram International tasks alone total $4,984.

Gatlin said he saw the mention of transferring money via Western Union and became suspicious.

He called the bank telephone number listed on the check. He talked to a woman who assured him the money was available.

“And that was the end of the conversation,” he said.

Gatlin still had questions.

So he dialed the number listed on the letter that bore a letterhead for Perceptive Service Research Inc. The calls wouldn’t go through, he said.

So he clicked onto the Internet to find a better phone number for the company.

The only thing that came up was “Perception Research Service Inc.,” a marketing research firm in New Jersey that had offices in Switzerland, China and Australia. Gatlin said he called the company, which insisted it does not issue cashier’s checks.

So he went back to the Internet for a better phone number for SouthCity bank.

Lisa Gill answered the phone, told him the amount on the check, notified him it was a fraudulent check and asked him to notify his local FBI office, as she had done.

“That overall method is extremely common, and we certainly caution people to never transfer money to individuals unknown to them or enter into any business with people that they do not know,” said Bob Brooker of the Cleveland FBI office.

Anyone who gets such as letter or e-mail should use common sense, he said.

Gill said the fraudulent company that sent out the cashier’s check has equipment that enables someone to answer the phone number listed on the check from a remote location.

“I’m hoping people would have more common senses than to do something like that,” Gill said. “You always learn as kids (that) you don’t get anything for nothing.”

Canton Repository