Mike Peraino was sitting in his South Shore office on Friday, thumbing through his mail, when he came across an envelope whose return address in Oklahoma meant absolutely nothing to him.
But the contents certainly meant something: It was a check, made out to him, for $2,350.
His first thought — that is, besides thinking how many things he’s put off around the house that he could spend it on — was what did he do to deserve this?
He didn’t recognize the name of the company on the check. Nor could he remember doing any business with it or doing anything, for that matter, that could have led to him being the recipient of such an unexpected, if welcome, windfall.
But he got busy, because Mike Peraino is a very busy man in a very busy job, and he put the check aside, resolving to get to the bottom of it later.
So he was back at his desk on Monday, going through his mail again and, wouldn’t you know it, another envelope, another check, this time from a company in New Jersey, made out to him for $3,000.
Mike Peraino likes free money as much as the next guy, but he’s also a little more suspicious than the next guy when it comes to getting $5,350 in unsolicited checks. Because Mike Peraino just happens to be the chief of police in Hingham.
“Both of the envelopes came via UPS,” he said. “They were next-day air packages. They listed the station’s address, but it wasn’t addressed to Hingham police. They were addressed to me, but it just had my name. It didn’t say chief.”
Peraino read the fine print of the letters that accompanied the checks, which claimed the checks were meant to reward customer loyalty or serve as some kind of prize. He was instructed to deposit the check, then wire a small fee which would cover the transaction and any taxes due.
“When you see that word wire,” Peraino said, “it should be bells and whistles.”
So Peraino called security at the bank in New Jersey that holds the company’s account and asked if the check was legitimate. The security guys told him the account number on the check was legit. So then Peraino called the main number for the company in New Jersey.
“The poor switchboard operator,” he said. “She said people were calling, very upset, asking why their checks had bounced even though they wired the money through. Thousands and thousands of those checks are out there.”
The company closed the accounts the checks were drawn on and opened new ones. But that operator is being besieged daily by angry, if somewhat gullible, people who took the bait.
Investigators, meanwhile, traced the scammers to Nigeria, which is considerably east of New Jersey.
Mike Peraino has been a cop for 35 years. He’s come across some brazen criminals, but he’s assuming the ones who tried to scam him didn’t know he was a police chief. Because if they did know he was a police chief and still sent him those checks that would make them not brazen but stupid. And they can’t be that stupid, because they are persuading credulous people to send them money.
“The checks look very genuine,’’ Peraino said. “They are using an expensive form of mail delivery, which might lead some people to think they are dealing with a legitimate company. These guys are professional.”
But so is Mike Peraino, and at least the word is now out there. Because, even as he had that money spent in his head, he remembered one of the first things they teach you in the police academy: If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.