MEXICO – Last month, Jonathan Rajaniemi lost his job of two years when he was laid off by the NewPage paper mill in Rumford.

It was bad news for Rajaniemi, 28, and his wife, Heather, 33, a college senior, because they also just had a third child and have a new home to pay for.

That’s why they got so excited Thursday when Heather Rajaniemi opened her mail and found a letter containing what looked like a real watermarked check made out to her for $4,750. It said the check would cover their payment of nonresident Canadian taxes on her winnings of a “$250,000 Consumer Promotion Draw” organized for shoppers at stores like Wal-Mart, Sears and Home Depot.

“She opened it and my jaw hit the floor,” Jonathan Rajaniemi said Friday. “We thought we’d hit the lottery. We thought it was a real check. It looks real. (The letter) says Wal-Mart, Sears, and Home Depot and we shop at Wal-Mart quite a bit.”

They didn’t know until Friday that it was the typical Canadian sweepstakes scam that the Office of the Maine Attorney General and police across Maine have been warning the public about for years.

A document on the attorney general’s Web site about fake check scams states, “The bottom line is if someone you don’t know pays you with a check but wants you to wire money back, it’s a scam.”

On Friday, the couple called the FBI and the Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco on which the check from a New Jersey contractor was supposedly drawn. Jonathan said they learned the contractor’s account had been canceled. The check and contest were bogus.

Photocopying the check also revealed a hidden watermark on its face stating the check itself was void.

That’s why the Rajaniemis said they, too, want to warn others in Maine who have recently lost jobs – especially mill jobs in the River Valley area – about the scam.

“To send something like this to this area at this time is not good. You’re going to get money….The FBI said (scammers) target areas in an economic downfall and here, there’s been big news in the papers about the mill layoffs,” Jonathan Rajaniemi said.

The Rajaniemis contacted the claims agent on the letter, who told them to deposit the check in their bank account, then wire the tax agent $3,880 to get the $250,000.

Had they done that, their bank would have contacted them a few days later – if an alert clerk didn’t catch the fraud – and told them the check was bogus, then required them to repay the money.

Instead, later Thursday night, Heather Rajaniemi contacted her mother, Rep. Sheryl Briggs, D-Mexico, who convinced the couple to slow down, research and investigate it.

“These scam artists are reaching out more and more especially through the economically difficult times, so people have to be very, very cautious. You know, 99.9 times these are scams,” Briggs said Friday.

She told the media and the attorney general. They did that and more. The check and letter are now en route to the FBI at the bureau’s request.

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