Local News

Son: Woman charged in online scam is victim, not criminal

Posted November 5, 2010 4:12 p.m. EDT
Updated November 5, 2010 6:32 p.m. EDT

— A Fayetteville woman charged with participating in a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme with links to Nigeria was victimized by the man running the scam, her son says.

Marie Elizabeth Register, 48, of 4542 Caskey Court, was charged Tuesday with two counts each of obtaining property by false pretense and obtaining property greater than $100,000 by false pretenses, four counts of forgery of an instrument and one count of possession of five or more counterfeit instruments.

Investigators said Register printed and mailed 235 counterfeit checks valued at more than $500,000 to people selling items on the eBay and Craigslist websites.

Register asked sellers to cash checks valued at more than what she owed, keep payment for the items purchased and send the balance back to her via Western Union or Moneygram, investigators said. She would then mail the cash to Nigeria.

Michael Wells said his mother met a man via computer and began an online relationship. He said she has had a tough time recently, going through a divorce and losing her mother.

"I believe that left her extremely vulnerable," Wells said.

Register thought the man she met online had a legitimate business and did not think she was doing anything wrong, her son said.

"We do believe she thought she was helping out someone by doing this, offering her services professionally, in a legitimate manner," Wells said. "The documentation we have that we will turn over to her defense attorney will state very clearly that she was a scam victim."

Investigators said they believe Register, who works in the lending business, was a willing accomplice in the scam. She ordered items online and had them shipped to a fake address in Fayetteville, they said.

Police have found 2,630 checks so far that they have linked to the scam, with a total value of $7.1 million. They are still trying to determine whether the scam has ties to terrorist activity.

Register remains in the Cumberland County jail under a $77,000 secured bond.

Wells said he wanted to share his mother's story in hopes it might help others.

"These scams are real. They really are real and they are very easy to fall for," he said.