In an alleged scheme targeting consumers in need of building their credit, scammers are said to have sent letters promoting semi-secured credit cards that would help boost credit scores. The letters asked people to send hundreds of dollars in deposits to either Freedom 1st National Bank or AmTrade International Bank in order to receive their cards.
The cards never came, because those aren’t real banks, according to the U.S. Officer of the Comptroller of the Currency. The OCC charters and regulates all national banks.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported on the OCC’s investigation into the “ghost banks,” which were really just mailboxes at a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., storage warehouse.
As of the report, the fraudsters hadn’t been caught, but investigators say they tied one of the mailboxes to Bradford C. Ege II, who allegedly cashed customer checks for Freedom 1st National Bank.
Ege called to check if he had mail every day, said Josh Mounts, manager of the storage center. Mounts said he started sending letters back because Ege stopped paying for the mailbox after a month. An unidentified man who had rented the mailbox for AmTrade also stopped paying, but that box never received mail.
Mounts said Ege received stacks of mail, and people started calling the storage center when they didn’t receive their cards. One man told Mounts he had sent $3,000. The OCC said the letters requested between $300 and $900.
Scams are rampant online, but phony offers in the mail are still prevalent. When choosing to do business with any financial institution, it’s crucial to confirm its legitimacy. The same goes for credit-repair services and any organization asking for your money or personal information.
Dealing with a fake financial institution could lead to lost money, identity theft, credit damage or all of the above. If you want to check out the legitimacy of a bank, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has a database where consumers can find out if a bank is FDIC-insured, and the OCC keeps a list of national banks and federal savings associations, plus a list of regulators for non-national banks and savings associations not under its purview.