RICHMOND -- Authorities are investigating complaints that homeowners are being sent letters from an apparently fictitious company directing them to send their mortgage payments to an address in Jacksonville, N.C.

"If it's a scam, it's a pretty brazen one," said U.S. Postal Service Inspector Joseph P. Morahan, who specializes in mail fraud.

The letters also are under investigation by the Better Business Bureau of Central Virginia and police in Chesterfield County, Va., where at least five homeowners received the letters, and by police in Jacksonville, N.C.

The letters, purporting to be from William E. Scott and Co., tell recipients the "payment processing" of their home mortgages has been assumed by the company, "a very normal occurance {sic} in the mortgage industry and it happens quite often."

The letters assure that the transfer "will in no way affect your credit rating," and that if the recipient has "just made a payment ... we will work with the former processor and it will be posted properly."

The letters list a customer service number. A call to the number this week was answered by a man who said he was in a telephone booth in Maysville, N.C., about 15 miles from Jacksonville.

Directory assistance has no listing for William E. Scott and Co. in Jacksonville. The Jacksonville address on the letterhead is the location of AA Self Storage, which offers post office box rental service.

The AA Self Storage manager, who requested anonymity, said a man identifying himself as William E. Scott took a one-month rental on the box Aug. 28 and gave a Charteoewione, Fla., number.

"He looked like a presentable businessman," the manager said. "He said he was in real estate."

The manager said local police have inquired about the rental.

One of the Chesterfield County recipients of the letter was Fanny J. Stewart. Her mortgage is held by First Colonial Bank in Hopewell, Va., where bank President James C. Stewart happens to be her nephew.

She called him to inquire about the letter and then called police.

Stewart said the bank has had a few other calls from customers asking about identical letters. He said the bank has not sold mortgages to the company.

"Never before have I seen anything like this," he said. "It's amazing. It's got to be a fictitious letter."