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Online Sellers: Beware of Fake Check Scams

If you sell enough stuff online at sites like Craigslist and eBay, eventually you will receive an offer for your wares that far exceeds your asking price. Such offers are often the first stage of a scam in which the fraudster sends a counterfeit check along with some elaborate explanation for offering such a high amount. The scam artist then asks the seller to wire back the difference after the check is deposited.

It should surprise no one that the checks always bounce, leaving anyone who falls for the scam liable to their bank for the entire amount. This is not a new scam, but I had never seen one of these fake checks in person until my colleague here at - Dan - recently received one of these fairly official-looking checks after advertising an $300 bike frame for sale on The outer envelope was hand addressed with a postmark from somewhere in Michigan.

Being a relatively cyber-savvy guy, Dan played along for a bit after receiving the scammer's initial e-mail, replying back to the fraudster and inquiring why he had overpaid for the item.

"Sorry for replying you late, the shipper are shipping it internationally for charity home, they are also shipping my other stuffs i bought that is why the fee is that amount," the scammer "Keith" wrote from an address at "I am doing this to help the need, kindly cash the check and let me know so that i can send you my shipping company payment details where you will send the remaining fee to so that they can come for the pickup."

According to the Federal Trade Commission, a big reason these scams succeed is that the checks look very official, and even draw upon legitimate account numbers assigned to real companies. For example, the company name printed on the check was Mouser Electronics Inc. in Mansfield, Texas. If you Google the account number that appears on the bottom of the check - 1891494252 - you indeed find two results (and hopefully three soon, including this one), one of which links directly to Mouser's official Web site.

But a call to Mouser's finance department proved that the scammers had merely appropriated the information from the company's site. Tamara LeClair, finance administrator for Mouser, said the company places that account number on its site so that customers can pay invoices via bank wire. She said the account is set to receive funds only, and that it cannot be used to release funds.

"We get waves of calls from people selling stuff on eBay where someone will send the caller a check for more than they asked and then ask them to send back the difference in cash," LeClair said.

If you receive one of these offers, just ignore it. If you feel the need to report it somewhere, you can file a complaint with the FTC and/or the FBI.

By Brian Krebs  |  May 13, 2008; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Fraud , Latest Warnings , Safety Tips , U.S. Government  
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As the late - great Frank Abagnale Jr. would say, "if the check does not have perforations remains on the edges, then the check is fake."


Posted by: DOUGman | May 14, 2008 12:43 AM | Report abuse

So, did you tell the FBI or Post Office?

Posted by: wiredog | May 14, 2008 8:06 AM | Report abuse

re: "If you receive one of these offers, just ignore it. If you feel the need to report it somewhere, you can file a complaint with the FTC and/or the FBI."

While I agree that not interacting with such parties is probably the safest thing to do from the perspective of protecting your privacy and finances, I think that every instance of this type of fraud should be reported and cataloged. Who knows what type of data could be mined and what lessons learned by doing so.

To be specific, there may be patterns that help to identify specific parties who are attempting this fraud. You (the savvy Internet commerce user) might not be caught up in a fraud like this. But the less street smart folks could be. Complacency will allow these crooks to continue their activities. Action will put them out of business.

Posted by: C.B. | May 14, 2008 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Why can't someone named Luigi with kneecap equipment visit this scoundrel in Michigan? Surely there's a billing address associated with the email account. Even if it's a PO Box number, there's a billing address there, and don't tell me about privacy issues. Grrrr -Excuse the ethnic reference.

Posted by: Pete from Arlington | May 14, 2008 11:53 AM | Report abuse

This article needs more prominence so that people can see it and be forwarned!!!

Posted by: tlawrenceva | May 14, 2008 3:20 PM | Report abuse

NO STRANGER will ever send you more genuine money than required FOR ANY REASON! Simple as that. If that happens it is a scam. Also if the letters to you have very bad grammar and misspelled words, it is a scam; because these messages are usually written/translated by machine to be sent in bulk to many potential victims. BEWARE, and always "check" out any funds received from a stranger, for any reason.

Posted by: da-punster | May 15, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Having received 2 of these type of letters (actually, offering me a 'job' as a reviewer of Moneygram services) you can also see warning signs of this style: Envelope comes from one state, check from another, 'head office' in another, and senting the money to a 4th place!

Posted by: Sean | May 16, 2008 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Does the scam work because people send off the "balance" before they know the check has cleared? Silly people. Of course, the bank will charge you a nasty fee just for depositing a rubber check

Posted by: theo | May 22, 2008 5:09 PM | Report abuse

LOL....I got one of these checks today, called the FBI and they wouldn't even take down my name. They told me they get calls like this all day and night.

I told they guy who sent it, I had cashed the check at a check cashing place and was moving out of that should fix him!

Posted by: Shell | May 23, 2008 1:01 AM | Report abuse

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