FLORENTINO SANTIAGO nearly got scammed, and he’s warning anyone else who may become a target.

“My concern is the senior citizens,” he said. “They could fall for this easily.”

On Tuesday, Santiago, 52, of Winslow, got a $2,837 check in the mail that looked very real. An accompanying letter claimed he had won $50,000 and said he should call Paul Anderson at 877-255-2896 to get the rest of his winnings.

Santiago called and “Anderson” told him to deposit the $2,837 check and then call him back.

“I almost fell for it and I was going down to the bank to deposit it, but I went back home and called the bank listed on the check,” he recalled. “They said there was no such account.”

While he never deposited the check, he called Anderson back and told him he had. Anderson said Federal Express would be delivering the winnings to Santiago, and when they arrived, Santiago should give the driver a money-gram for $980, the tax on the $50,000.


At that point, Santiago told Anderson he knew it was a scam.

“He hung up,” Santiago recalled.

After that, he went to the Winslow Police Department to report the scam, then he came to the newspaper.

I recognized him right away as the kind-hearted student I met last year while speaking to his evening English class at Mid-Maine Regional Adult & Community Education at Waterville Senior High School.

Santiago for the last three years has been working on earning his high school diploma.

Born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York City, Santiago dropped out of high school his junior year, started working in grocery stores and later had his own construction company. He also was trained as a chef.


He came to Maine to visit a relative and fell in love with the state. He knew it would be a great place to raise his children.

“It was peaceful and safe,” he said.

Eleven years ago, he moved here and worked as a restaurant kitchen manager several years. He and his wife, Mary, have seven children and the youngest, ages 15, 13 and eight, are still at home. The couple also cares for Santiago’s brother, Jesus, 55, who has Down Syndrome and dementia.

Santiago himself has multiple medical issues, including fibromyalgia, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis — and suffered a heart attack at 26. He has had left shoulder and hip replacements and expects to have his right hip and shoulder replaced also.

“I work at Winslow House of Pizza part time, just to keep myself busy. I suffer so much pain, and by working, I don’t feel so much pain.”

Despite his own challenges, he takes the time to look out for others. He feels it is his duty to warn people about the check scam.


“The holidays are coming up. They get a check like this, and they think they’re safe for the holidays. That’s my concern, especially for the senior citizens. They get a check, and they’re going to think it’s real. I thought it was real when I first saw it.”

His bogus check bore the name Willowbend Environmental Center with an address of 2231 Highway 80 East, Mesquite, Texas, 75150.

I went online and found Willowbend Nursing & Rehabilitation Center at that address, called the phone number listed and spoke with a woman who was well aware of the scam.

“It’s a fraud,” she said. “Our lawyers are working on it.”

While she would not give her name, she said she has received many calls from people who had received the fraudulent checks.

I also called “Anderson,” who had a foreign accent and hung up on me when I identified myself as a newspaper reporter. I called again and got a recording with a woman’s voice saying to try again later.


My next call was to the Maine Attorney General’s Office. Tim Feeley, the department’s spokesman, was not surprised when I told him about Santiago and the check he received.

“This is just a variation on a very common scam,” Feeley said. “It’s a fake check scam, and these are pretty widespread and have been around for a while.”

People should be skeptical when told they have won something; they also should never deposit a check and wire money, according to Feeley.

“That’s a huge red flag,” he said. “That is — almost 100 percent of the time — not going to be a legitimate thing.”

The Federal Trade Commission website, http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0159-fake-checks, contains information about check scams and is a good resource, Feeley said. People also may call the Maine Attorney General’s Consumer Mediation Service at 800-436-2131 or go to consumer.mediation@maine.gov.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 26 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at acalder@centralmaine.com.

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