By Tim Eberly
The money is for the high school students, she said.
We're a couple hundred dollars short of our goal, she said.
Havre police say Desirea Lee Writing Bird, 20, was scamming the five Havre businesses she entered on Sept. 26 under the guise of coordinating a fund drive to send local students to Spokane, Wash., for an annual academic competition. Writing Bird, a Box Elder resident, told business people the event provides academic scholarships to students who succeed in competition and is called "Do you know your education?"
Area schools say the competition does not exist. Police say the scam is one of several operating in the Havre area recently.
"They had not heard of that event," Havre police Capt. Mike Barthel said. "As far as they knew, it was not a school-related activity."
Said Havre High principal Jim Donovan: "We are not aware of that. We have a process for fund-raising. And asking somebody to fund-raise outside the school would be pretty extraordinary."
The letter Writing Bird presented in person to the five area businesses all of which donated money stated that she was taking 12 students, four each from Havre, Box Elder and Rocky Boy High schools, to the event.
At 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, Writing Bird was arrested on the charge of deceptive practices for financial gain. She was taken to the Hill County Detention Center, booked and released.
Barthel said this is not the only incident of possible fraudulent solicitation that has occurred in Havre recently.
"I don't know if it's a heightened awareness but we are definitely getting more fraud complaints," Barthel said. "People are feeling generous and that brings out the ugly in some people as well."
One woman on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation received an e-mail recently from a man claiming to be the oldest son of a wealthy Sierra Leone government official who died during their country's civil war. In the e-mail, the man states that his father concealed $28.8 million from rebel leaders and that he was killed for his refusal to hand over the money.
He proposes that he will offer 20 percent of the money in exchange for help in arranging the movement of the money to an American or European bank account. However, the e-mail lists an incomplete phone number while it requests fax and phone numbers in return.
"Number one is never give your account information, Social Security number, bank account numbers, over the phone unless you are the one that is soliciting merchandise," Barthel said.
A Havre resident received a fax from a so-called accountant in Nigeria, requesting bank account numbers in order to transfer $30 million to the United States. As payment, the person who provided access to a bank account would receive 30 percent of the money almost $10 million. The accountant stressed the confidential nature of the transaction, and left an inactive phone number for people to reach him.
"I think people in Montana are generous," Barthel said. "People see that and they take advantage of it. Once they have success in the state, they will continue to do so until they are caught or apprehended."
Margaret Heberly, a Havre resident, is wondering about a solicitation she received from a group called the National Cancer Coalition in Seattle. She got a letter in late September from the group requesting donations for a Havre cancer drive.
Heberly, a 30-year survivor of breast cancer, regularly contributes to cancer fund-raising organizations.
"This is just somebody that is trying to make money from the Havre community falsely," Heberly said. "Havre does have fund-raising drives for cancer and this is not one of them."
The Better Business Bureau's headquarters in Virginia said the National Cancer Coalition has chosen not to disclose information about its organization to the BBB. Phone calls placed to the coalition went to an answering machine and were not returned.