Friday, July 03, 2009

Mail Fraud - a Colleague Foils an Attempt

All those scams that you read about online apparently actually happen to some people. Yeah, we all get those Nigerian scam e-mails, but I don't often come across folks that have first hand experience of attempted mail fraud. Well, last week my office manager (let's call her Helen) told me about the following dilemma:

She has been selling some baseball cards on eBay in recent months (I don't know if this is a temporary shtick or a real side business, apparently everyone has a side business these days, except for me), and one of her buyers sent her a cashier's check as payment for his purchases. The check was for a total of $1,200 while the purchase price was under $200. The purchaser asked Helen to cash the check, keep the full purchase price, plus a fee for inconvenience and to send the rest to a person he designated. This was accompanied by an elaborate apology and by a seemingly rational explanation about why this was necessary.

Most of you probably recognize this as a well known scam. The short version of it is this: the seller cashes the check, which appears to clear, and sends the extra money to the designated party. After a few days the seller's bank discovers that the check is fraudulent and claims the money back from the seller. The seller has a crappy day and learns to be more suspicious of strangers.

Helen, being a smart individual, figured that something was wrong here, but was trying to understand what that was exactly. She was also trying to decide what to do next. Here is what Craig's List suggests you do to avoid getting scammed and to report attempted fraud. Needless to say, that the cashier's check was never cashed and a formal complaint was filed with eBay (where it was promptly sucked into a black hole, probably never to be heard from again).

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FB @ said...

I was almost caught by that exact scam when I was 16 or something and selling stuff on eBay.

Not being smart enough, I was saved by my forgetfulness and stupidity, and the Paypal amount that was paid to me, was reversed, and I never ended up making a money order in cash for the entire amount to mail to this person.


Shadox said...

People's ingenuity in cheating their fellow man is boundless...

lulu said...

One way that the banks can help with this is to not cash the checks. I have only seen this in the US where the banks will allow you to get the money, in the Caribbean you cannot 'cash' those checks. You MUST deposit it and it is held for one to two weeks until it can be verified.

Even with regular checks in the US this is a problem as I know people who have deposited checks and two days later it comes up fake....not so in the has to be held until it clears.