FIRST ON 3: FBI investigating scam centered in Etowah - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

FIRST ON 3: FBI investigating scam centered in Etowah

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ETOWAH, TN. (WRCB) -- Victims are promised a job, handling a businessman's finances.

All they have to do is cash a check.

Seem too good to be true? That's because it is.

At least 30 people fell victim to what police say is an age-old Nigerian scam that was being operated out of Etowah, Tennessee.

But the woman printing those checks claims she's the real victim. She, too, thought she was working for a businessman.

"It was just a fluke of how I came across it," says Detective Jim Shaw.

It was a call from a woman in Tulsa, Oklahoma that first alerted Detective Shaw to the biggest scam Etowah, population 3,500, has ever seen.

"She was sent a check," Shaw says. "She was supposed to cash it, keep ten percent of the money, and wire the rest of it back."

"She cashed the check," Shaw adds. "It (money) came out of her account. The check came back counterfeit."

The address on the check led investigators to Western Union on Highway 411, and then to Etowah resident, Ann Marie Carpenter.

"When she showed up to pick up the money, I was there at the same time," says Shaw.

The 62-year-old was an open book with detectives, allowing them to search her home.

Shaw says he found evidence of at least 30 other victims.

"She'd gone through $100,000," Shaw says. "That's just with Western Union, here in Etowah."

Carpenter told police she wasn't doing it for money, but for love.

A man she met on the internet asked her to print the checks, mail them, and then send the earnings to him in Nigeria.

He was using a job posting to flag victims.

"They did an advertisement on Craigslist," Shaw says. "It said it wanted you to work for a businessman, handling his financial affairs."

Carpenter's friends say she thought she was helping with a legitimate business.

"She's got the biggest heart of gold, but she's gullible as I don't know what," says Darlene Vargas.

"He was going to buy her a house and build a life with her, and that was ultimately her goal," says Darnay Morgan.

Channel 3 spoke with Carpenter briefly when we stopped by her home.

She declined to comment on the case that has now been handed over to federal investigators.

It will be up to a grand jury to decide if Carpenter will be indicted.

Darlene Vargas says her next door neighbor and friend is the true victim, and nothing more.

"She's never done something like that, and I don't think that she was even aware of it herself, as to what he was really wanting her to do," Vargas says.

Detective Shaw says none of the victims are local, but that doesn't mean you should let your guard down.

Shaw says under no circumstances should you respond to emails or want ads for a get rich quick or work from home pitches.

Never give out your personal information over the phone.

And if you truly win or earn money, you will not be asked to send money to anyone. That is a red flag.

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