An Arizona woman mailed $13K to Fort Mill. Why the man who got it took off running.

An Arizona woman mailed $13,000 to an address in Fort Mill. Neighbors here couldn't quite keep her from losing it.

According to police reports, the payoff end of a phone scam occurred in Fort Mill when a man approached a UPS driver, showed identification matching the name on an envelope believed to contain the money and took possession of it . Neighbors at the Fort Mill property approached him to question what was happening, and the man ran off with the envelope.

"The people that actually did live there noticed the man," said Maj. Bryan Zachary with the Fort Mill Police Department. "He realized he was caught in that lie, so he took off running."

According to the police report, an officer in Fort Mill contacted the Arizona woman on June 9. She told the officer she received a phone call from someone identifying himself as her grandson. The call came from an area code in south central Virginia.

The man on the phone said he was involved in a collision and was arrested, and that his grandmother needed to mail $13,000 to a Fort Mill address for his release from jail. The man then handed the phone to a woman who gave instructions on how the money was to be sent.

The Arizona woman said she was told "not to tell anybody." The woman mailed the money in $100 bills, placed in a magazine inside a large envelope. The envelope was delivered June 10 at 9:30 p.m, according to the report.

The home where the money was sent is in the Riverchase subdivision. According to county records, it was built and sold to its current owner in 2016.

When the delivery driver arrived, a man who didn't live in the neighborhood but who had been near the delivery address for some time approached the driver and showed an identification matching the mailing address. He told the driver he didn't live at the address but rather right beside the home.

"He knew the package was coming," Zachary said.

A nearby resident who was leaving his home so it could be ready for a real estate showing approached the man with the envelope. Witnesses weren't able to give much description of the man who ran away with the money. Police are working with the delivery company and witnesses to gather details.

"He showed the driver an ID that corresponded with the name that appeared on the package," Zachary said.

If the scammers are found, they could face charges both here and in Arizona.

"The actually crime itself would have occurred where it originated (in Arizona)," Zachary said. "The person receiving the money, of course, here could be responsible for receiving the money."

Unless police were able to determine the same person collected the envelope and called the Arizona woman, the Fort Mill charge would be lesser. The case is being investigated here.

"The only charge here could have been obtaining money under false pretenses," Zachary said.

This is one example of a so-called phishing scam. It refers to a phone-based fraud. While police work to help the woman who mailed the money, Zachary said there are several aspects of the case that are "automatically indicative" of fraud. The caller telling the woman not to tell anyone was the biggest, he said.

"That's the number one indicator," Zachary said. "That's the number one most suspicious aspect."

Fraud schemes vary. They change with time. They often target the elderly, often with claims that a friend or family member is in trouble and needs money. They often go after large sums of money, as many people see through the schemes.

"These people may be calling hundreds of people a day," Zachary said. "In one instance if it pays off, they've made it worth their while."

Zachary said residents should know no jail would call a relative asking or money (only the arrested person would), and a public agency wouldn't ask for cash in the mail or money to be placed on generic cards.

"iTunes cards have been frequently asked for," Zachary said.

If a friend or relative is in jail, bonding them out would involve someone coming into the facility to pay a bond, a bail bond service or a judge-issued bond with no cash payment. Mailing cash or cards is "just not the way the process works," Zachary said.

Police here gets reports from time to time of people contacted using similar scams. Having the town used as a collection site is unusual.

"Not to my recollection," Zachary said. "Not of this type. There are all types of swindles and cons and fraud offenses that are out there that are prevalent at any given time."

John Marks: jmarks@fortmilltimes.com; @JohnFMTimes
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