Local woman victimized by junk mail scam

By Abby Morris
Star Staff

   A city woman reported to police that she had been the victim of a fraud which investigators say is part of a new national trend of crimes.
   According to police reports, the woman reported to officers of the Elizabethton Police Department that someone had made a withdrawal from her checking account in the amount of $139 without her approval or knowledge. She further stated that she had contacted the company and was informed that the money would be returned to her account but that she has not yet received a refund.
   EPD Detective Matt Bowers began working on the case and through the course of the investigation was able to find out that withdrawal from the victim's checking account had been taken out by a company named InterBill on behalf of an on-line company by the name of PharmacyCards.com. The victim advised Bowers that she had not authorized the withdrawal, she had never given her checking account number to the company and she had never heard of the company prior to the withdrawal being made.
   According to the Web site of PharmacyCards.com, the company, which is based out of British Columbia, Canada, provides prescription medication cards which reportedly allow the card holder to receive discounts on medications.
   Bowers stated that he contacted the company and spoke with a female representative who told him that the company had sent out advertisements in the mail for the product offering a prescription card to the recipient and that the company's policy was that if the recipient did not reply within 10 days, the $139 charge for the card membership was automatically deducted from their checking account.
   While investigating the company, Bowers decided to look on the Internet since the company was Internet-based. During his search for information on the company, he ran across a Web site called badbusinessbureau.com, where consumers can report bad business dealings with on-line companies, which had several complaints of the same nature dealing with PharmacyCards.com.
   According to Bowers, many of the complaints listed on that Web site about PharmacyCards.com all stated the same circumstances as the case with the Elizabethton woman: the withdrawal was unauthorized, the product was not requested and that the victims had not given out their checking account number. "That's the thing the people filing complaints on the Internet are trying to figure out: how they are getting the checking account number," Bowers said.
   The incidents reported on-line were from all across the United States. Complaints listed on badbusinessbureau.com came from the states of North Carolina, Minnesota, Connecticut, Indiana, Wisconsin and Kansas to name a few.
   Due to the widespread nature of the scam, the Criminal Investigations of the Elizabethton Police Department will be speaking with the District Attorney to see if he feels the case should go before the United States Attorney's Office, according to EPD Capt. Mike Peters.
   Currently, Bowers and Peters are advising area residents to be on the lookout for possible scams coming as junk mail along with their regular mail. "It is probably a good idea to keep an eye on your mail, read it all," Bowers said. "If it is something that automatically signs you up then respond and decline the product if you do not want it."
   Peters also advises residents to watch their checking accounts for unauthorized transactions. "If you have any questionable or unusual withdrawals then contact the police department and contact your bank immediately," he said.
   The EPD is also asking that anyone who has had a similar experience notify their local police or sheriff's department to file a complaint.