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Scam targets hotel owners

When a $4,000 payment showed up in the mail to cover a $1,195 bill, Jim Freeman knew something was up.

Freeman, owner of Freeman’s Motel in Almond, made his way to Google and learned he had just narrowly avoided a sophisticated scam.

Earlier, Freeman had received emails from Nicole Bloomer, supposedly a 38-year-old accountant in London looking forward to a relaxing vacation in the mountains.

“Bloomer” was friendly, adding personal touches to her emails to increase her legitimacy. “Have a great day and God bless,” she wrote at the end of her first email.

After Freeman’s response to her inquiry, there was a delay. Bloomer wrote back later saying her dad had just undergone a triple bypass operation.

“It’s been a very nervous period for my family and I. Thanks to God he is awake today and responding well to treatment,” Bloomer wrote.

When it came time to reserve the room, Bloomer said her employer Shell Oil Company would send a money order paying in full. The money order Freeman received far exceeded the original bill, however.

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Bloomer wrote again saying the finance department had made a mistake, instructing Freeman to return the remainder. To expedite the process, she even included the address of the nearest Western Union location in Robbinsville.

Freeman Googled “Shell Oil Company” in Stockton, Calif., where the money order came from. He learned from an actual employee that it was a scam.

The money order was counterfeit, which Freeman would learn only after sending the alleged overpayment from his own account.

Freeman immediately notified the Sheriff’s Office and was told to file a complaint with the FBI online. He then alerted the Swain County Chamber of Commerce to ensure other businesses would not be duped by the scam.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is,” said Freeman. “Don’t be greedy. That’s what scam artists prey on, someone that is either greedy or trusting.”

Karen Wilmot, director of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce, admits that scams are getting much more sophisticated, especially with the poor economy.

“Everyone needs to be vigilant, more so than ever probably,” said Wilmot.

The most common scam Wilmot comes across is a poor quality map of the region that claims to be affiliated with the Chamber.

“It gives them a tinge of legitimacy,” said Wilmot. “We publish our own maps and do not work with other agencies for the most part.”


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