Safe from Scams: Scam steals money from schools

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US postal inspectors call it an elaborate scheme to steal money from a school-- and the suspect is a former educator. (KFSN)

US postal inspectors call it an elaborate scheme to steal money from a school-- and the suspect is a former educator.

A perfect storm is how this long-time educator described why her elementary school got mixed up in a false billing scam.

"It was just a crazy hectic time of year with expansion, new building, three locations, new secretaries," said Debbie Pontoriero, fraud victim.

So, when an invoice for just over $600 came in from a known vendor it was just paid.

"At that point, just seeing the name of the company, which is one that we had been buying from, and a small invoice for, you know, less than a thousand, it really got overlooked," said Pontoriero.

This school was not alone. Postal inspectors said Robert Armstrong sent out more than 77,000 false invoices. The former school administrator, who had lost his job, knew exactly how schools operated.

"It appeared that he knew when to send the invoices so that they would get mixed in with the summer ordering, so that the invoices would get passed through the system a little bit easier than they would if there was more of a closer eye looking at the invoices, like, say, in February," said Michael Marro, Jr., US Postal Inspector.

There were more than $650,000 in losses from over 1,000 schools.

Postal inspectors said the most important lesson is for all businesses to have a specified series of checks and balances.

Pontoriero said her school has the right system, but the bill came at a challenging time-- now she knows better.

"Never be too busy, or too much in a hurry, to not take the time to really look at something that is going to cost you money."

Armstrong pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud. He was sentenced to more than four years in jail and ordered to pay more than $600,000 in restitution.
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