'I was like, 'Whoa, free money.' '

There's no such thing as free money.

Just ask Aaron Shaw, 22, who was nearly duped into cashing fake travelers checks at a local bank as part of an Internet scheme that could've landed him in jail.

The scam originated two weeks ago when Shaw, of Medford, posted his resume on two Web-based job sites. The scam artists, posting as a courier company based in Memphis, Tenn., contacted him and requested personal information including his e-mail address.

"So, yesterday I suddenly get this package in the mail containing $4,000 worth of American Express travelers checks," Shaw said. "I was like, 'Whoa, free money.' "

Shaw then took the five $800 checks to the South Valley Bank & Trust on Crater Lake Avenue and attempted to cash them. It didn't take long for the bank tellers to spot the fake checks and call the police, Shaw said.

Medford police officers questioned him about the checks. The entire process left him shaken and fearing he would be jailed on federal fraud charges, Shaw said.

"The officers were as nice as they could be under the circumstances," he said. "But it was very dramatic to have that kind of contact with the police."

The officers let him go, warning him to not fall for such a scheme again.

"They said one time makes me a victim, and twice makes me a suspect," Shaw said.

When he arrived home, he had an e-mail waiting for him from the Memphis company. The writer gave him instructions concerning the package of checks.

"He told me to cash the checks and then keep 4 percent of the $4,000 and send the rest back to them," Shaw said. "Had I known about this e-mail before I got the checks I wouldn't have tried to cash them."

He then called a number listed in the e-mail, but the man who answered remained vague about his identity and the company's whereabouts.

Medford police Deputy Chief Tim George said this is one of the many variations of the same scam involving fake checks.

"These people send out thousands of these notices, and they always seem to get one or two that swim into the net," George said.

To avoid Shaw's predicament, George asks that you remember one simple adage.

"Pennies don't fall from heaven," he said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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