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 washingtonpost.com - Dan - recently received one of these fairly official-looking checks after advertising an $300 bike frame for sale on Craigslist.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. "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.
May 13, 2008; 11:30 AM ET
Categories: Fraud , Latest Warnings , Safety Tips , U.S. Government
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