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NORTH ANDOVER — A town resident who tried to sell a musical instrument for $200 over the Internet nearly lost $2,700 in a version of the so-called "Nigerian scam," uncovered by the North Andover Police Department.
But the potential victim who got duped into mailing three legitimate checks to a Hudson man after depositing a counterfeit one with her bank, had second thoughts about what she had done and called police.
"We were notified just in time," North Andover police Lt. Paul Gallagher said last night.
"Because of the quickness of the officers who investigated the scam and the lady reporting it, there was a hold put on checks that would have been sent to Nigeria. And the instrument was never delivered," Gallagher said.
Besides saving the woman's money, an investigation by Officer Michael Gilligan and Inspector Jay Staude led to the arrest of Mark Edwards, 54, of Hudson, who is alleged to have mailed 350 counterfeit checks totaling more than $400,000 to potential victims.
Edwards pleaded not guilty yesterday at his arraignment after having spent Thursday night in a cell at the North Andover police station. He was charged with counterfeit checks, larceny over $250, forgery and uttering false documents. Edwards was released on his personal recognizance and is due back in court next month.
Police are working with U.S. Secret Service agents in an investigation that could lead to more arrests.
The North Andover woman is the only Merrimack Valley resident known to have received a counterfeit check.
"We've found people fall for scams like this before, but this is the first time we've been able to make an arrest with this type of scheme," Gallagher said.
"Had we not been able solve this case in time ... our resident would have lost the money and certified real checks would have wound up in Nigeria beyond our grasp," he said.
Police would not identify the victim, who they said got caught up in the scam after trying to sell an instrument over the Internet site, Craigslist.
The woman told police she received an e-mail from a person who claimed to be a Georgia resident who was interested in buying the instrument. The man told her he would send a check for $2,700 even though the agreed upon sales price was for $200, police said.
"She gets a $2,700 check from a New Jersey company that was sent through UPS with a tracking number," Gallagher said.
"The instructions were to have Western Union money transfers for $1,000, $1,000 and $400 (written off the $2,700 deposit) and to ship the instrument and the checks to another person," he said.
"Our investigation revealed that the victims' checks were going to be sent over to Nigeria and that Mr. Edwards would keep 10 percent of value of these checks, which were legitimate U.S. checks.
The counterfeit checks allegedly generated by Edwards appeared legitimate — generated with real companies, including Microsoft and two other companies in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and they included proper bank and routing numbers, according to police.
Officer Gilligan met with the woman on Wednesday after receiving the complaint of possible Internet fraud. The officer contacted Edwards and interviewed him Thursday at the station, where he was arrested. The counterfeit check had not cleared the bank and police were able to put a hold on the shipment of the legitimate checks and the instrument that were shipped to Edwards.
North Andover police receive reports each week of various Internet scams. Gallagher estimates that about a dozen people a year lose money.
"The officers did a fantastic job, with the assistance of Secret Service," Gallagher said.
"We were able to identify the IP (Internet provider) address as New Jersey. Generally, the money is out of the country on something like this before you figure out the IP address," he said.
In a typical "Nigerian scam," a person receives an e-mail advising them they can receive some money if they provide them with a payment up front and personal account information. The most popular tells of a Nigerian dignitary offering a cash reward to help him or her get money out of the country.
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