Too good to be true: Mother of three sued after winning $13,000 on Internet
By Rob Golub
RACINE - Jaclyn Swenson, 26, was trying to figure out where she was going to get money for diapers when the doorbell rang.
A man from FedEx handed over an envelope. Inside was another envelope, made of brown paper, and inside that envelope was a certified check for $13,000. Swenson was shocked. She knew she'd won a contest on the Internet, but she never believed the money would really arrive.
Swenson says she called family, banks, the Racine Police and the Better Business Bureau to get advice about the unexpected windfall. She recalled what she learned: "Everyone says a cashier's check means the money's already there."
The $13,000 check has been trouble ever since it showed up. It has gotten her sued by her credit union, it had her afraid to leave the house, and it has her worried she'll somehow lose her children
The problem started with her unusual hobby. She loves to enter contests on the Internet and she'll happily correspond by e-mail endlessly with the "contest" officials who keep asking for her Social Security number and bank account number. She doesn't give the numbers, since she realizes they could be used to rip her off.
But she did exchange about 75 e-mails with one set of contest officials, until they finally agreed to send her a check. The $13,000 check arrived in March and Swenson was delightedly
"If I had known that check was no good I never would have touched it," she now says.
Swenson, who says she has never had more than $50 in her account, deposited the $13,000 in an account at Co-operative Credit Union, 6219 Washington Ave., on Friday, March 19.
"She was allowed to withdraw $3,000 in cash that day," said Kathy Strong, vice president at the credit union.
Swenson says she was told that all she had to do was wait five business days to be assured she could withdraw all the money with confidence. So she waited until Friday, March 26 - five business days - and withdrew $6,000.
Strong reports that Swenson was even allowed to withdraw a $500 money order the next business day, on Monday, March 29. Swenson says that she intended to get more but a bank official suddenly threatened to call the police.
Swenson's first thought: "I'm going to jail."
So she ran. She ran out of the credit union in a panic.
It turns out the check is a fraud. The apparent scam here is that Swenson is supposed to deposit the fake $13,000 check and then forward the nonexistent money to an out-of-state account. For doing this, she's supposed to win the big prize, 1.5 million British pounds, or $2.8 million in U.S. currency.
But the big prize never arrives, of course, and the scam artist withdraws the nonexistent $13,000 from the out-of-state account before the banks figure out what's going on.
"It's a smart scam," Swenson now says.
The smart scam didn't get Swenson, however. She refused to forward the $13,000, kept it, and spent much of it. She paid bills and paid family back for loans. She bought a 1996 Nissan Pathfinder for $4,500, along with an X-Box, clothes, games and a trip to Chuck E. Cheese's for Swenson's and her fiance's three children.