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Gemstone scam?
June 30, 2009 8:01 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine has become involved in a new... "job" It sounds too good to be true so it must be!

Basically, this "job" involves my friend receiving very specific money transfer requests from some dude he found on craigslist.

He gets a transfer, sometimes western union, sometimes an interac or email transfer, he then has to cash it and transer it to someone else. The guy usually wants this done within the next hour or so.

The guy explained that what he's doing is getting clients to buy gem stones over the internet or something, then he has to transfer it in my friend's name and then he has to collect the money and transfer it to some other person (A NIGERIAN!)

Is this some sort of money laundering scam? I really don't know what's up with whole deal and I'd like to know if there are ricks for him at all? My friend's name is on all these transfers...
Any info is appreciated.
posted by PowerCat to Work & Money (74 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yeah, this is a pretty bad idea.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:03 PM on June 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


he's the fall guy. this shit will come crashing down around his ears just as soon as one of the scammed people calls the cops.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:05 PM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


No question it's a scam. Craigslist itself even says so. Just do a Google search for "Craigslist money transfer scam" and you'll find countless similar examples. Tell your friend to run very far away.
posted by Rewind at 8:07 PM on June 30, 2009


This is 100% a scam. Tell your friend he is already fucked.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:10 PM on June 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


Your friend is a scammer and a scamee. Here's what will happen if things go badly: your friend will be out some of his personal income, prosecuted for various types of fraud, and subject to various civil suits. Here's what will happen if things go well: he will continue to make shit money at an unsatisfying job with a criminal for a boss.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:11 PM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Scam, scam, scam!
I can see it working something like this:

1. The dude transfers money to your friend.
2. Your friend sends money to the other person.
3. The dude's transfer somehow bounces or gets reversed.
4. Your friend is out the money he sent to the other person, and can't contact the dude.

Your friend has all sorts of risks in this "job".
Tell your friend to run away as fast as possible.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:12 PM on June 30, 2009


And of course I linked to this page instead of the correct one. Optimus Chyme linked to the page I had in mind...
posted by Rewind at 8:12 PM on June 30, 2009


Money Laundering
posted by mattoxic at 8:13 PM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nthing scam. I'm really surprised the money orders haven't reversed out of his account yet. When they do he is totally fucked and he is going to be responsible for all the money transferred out of his account, his account closed or frozen, probably blacklisted on Chexsystems, and won't be able to get a bank account for a good long time. He needs to stop this right fucking now.
posted by calistasm at 8:16 PM on June 30, 2009


Best-case for your friend is that this is simply money laundering. Worst-case, is some sort of scam a la Multicellular Exothermic's example. I'd suspect money laundering, but either way, I'd stay well clear...
posted by pompomtom at 8:19 PM on June 30, 2009


This is only a "job" in the way that, say, re-selling stolen car stereos is a "job". I think it may actually be lower on the legitimacy scale that drug dealing.
posted by bunnycup at 8:19 PM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Your friend is, at best, either the victim of a scam (or soon will be) or, at worst, assisting in some form of money laundering, which is possibly supporting (somewhere along the chain of causality) violent crime.

Your friend is either being maleficent, or very foolish.
posted by wfrgms at 8:23 PM on June 30, 2009


I sincerely doubt this is money laundering, by the way. Anybody who wanted to launder money might try something like this, but they wouldn't just find people on Craigslist to do it (and risk getting caught)—they'd use a friend or a distant cousin or some random acquaintance who they had some small idea they could trust. Also, the number of Nigerians on the internet who happen to have huge sums of money that they simply need to launder is miniscule compared to the number of Nigerians on the internet who are running money-transfer scams. I think this has something to do with the fact that the Nigerian government doesn't really have whole internal departments who spend all of their time poring over accounts and making sure a given sum of money comes from the right place. Laundering money in Nigeria would probably only involve washing the actual blood off of it before you spend it; after that, nobody's likely to look at you funny and wonder where it came from.
posted by koeselitz at 8:35 PM on June 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


This is precisely the same as the 419 scams, too. The only difference is that they found him on Craigslist rather than through an email.
posted by koeselitz at 8:37 PM on June 30, 2009


I'd say there's almost a zero percent chance that your friend is laundering money and a 99% chance that your friend is getting scammed (i.e., there aren't any gems, and the only money in play is your friend's). It's a fairly standard con, although there are variations.

The usual way it works is the con artists "transfers" money to your friend's bank account. Your friend cashes this money out and gives it to the con artist's accomplice. But the transfer never really happened, it was either forged message or the electronic equivalent of a rubber check.

On the plus side, there's very little chance your friend is going to get in trouble, since he's just giving his own money to the con artists.
posted by justkevin at 8:43 PM on June 30, 2009


I think this has something to do with the fact that the Nigerian government doesn't really have whole internal departments who spend all of their time poring over accounts and making sure a given sum of money comes from the right place.

Do you actually know anything about Nigerian financial regulations? There are actually quite a few, one of which is that it is, or at least was in the past, illegal to transfer money out of the country. I don't know if that's still the case. So it was a huge hassle to transfer money out of the country for legitimate reasons. The 419 thing mostly came about because it was a fairly poor English speaking country connected to the internet, although there is an enormous amount of financial corruption and scamming going on as well. Nigerian banks are actually popular in other African countries, and more trusted then local institutions in some places (according to that comment).

Anyway, your friend is obviously getting scammed. And probably getting ripped off. I don't think it's money laundering, but rather a cancellation scam
posted by delmoi at 8:49 PM on June 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Just to clarify, most answers claim stealing money off of him, but actually this is how it happened.

He made a total of 2 money transfers.

The first time, he got an INTERAC email money transfer. He actually got 1000$ and transfered to his real bank account, withdrew it, kept his cut and sent it using western union. Actual money was involved.

The second time, he went to western union to claim a money transfer in his name for 800$, he got the money in hand and then transferred it to a completely different person in Nigeria

What's up with this, this is very strange but it actually does involve money, not just fake transfers.

My friend did give his address, name and phone number to the scammer, are there any risks for him? he's worried about the situation.
posted by PowerCat at 9:08 PM on June 30, 2009


So Nigerian criminals have his real name, address and phone number... and his bank account number... what could possibly go wrong? Dude, seriously.

I am presuming the cash used is somehow supposed to lull him into some sort of sense of comfort with the situation. The stakes will be ramped up at some point.

He should get out and get out now. And just for the sake of sense of security, I'd suggest he close his bank account, open another with an entirely new number (or switch banks altogether), regularly pull his credit report and put a fraud alert on his social security number.
posted by jerseygirl at 9:17 PM on June 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


I work in credit card fraud and we see these kinds of things a lot.

This sounds like a form of check kiting.

What's likely the case is that the money transfer itself is fraudulent.

When you deposit a check, money order, money transfer, whatever... into a bank account, something called a "payment float" is done. Basically, the bank takes your word that the check is kosher and "floats" you a certain amount of the check (depending on various factors), up to the full amount. Usually banks have a certain threshold that they stop floating the full amount at, but that depends on the customer, I think.

The bank "floated" your friend the $1000, assuming that the transfer is legit. Your friend withdrew it, and sent it off again.

When a bank catches this (and they will!), YOUR FRIEND will be liable for it once it all comes crashing down. He will be responsible for the $1000 + $800 + fees + all sorts of other bullshit.

Money is not money unless your friend's Nigerian friend hands him straight up dollar bills. And even then, I'd check those for authenticity.

Please advise your friend to run very fast in the other direction and cease doing this immediately.
posted by Verdandi at 9:19 PM on June 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


Thank you very much for all this information. Even though it's hard to understand how the nigerians actually scam western union itself and the official INTERAC website, that's very odd indeed.
thank you for the information, I hope he'll get away of it soon!
posted by PowerCat at 9:28 PM on June 30, 2009


Verandi has just said exactly what I was going to say.

My friend did give his address, name and phone number to the scammer, are there any risks for him? he's worried about the situation.

I don't think there are any risks in the sense of guys showing up on your friend's doorstep with a Glock ready to blow him away. But there IS risk of him getting slammed a month from now when his bank says "oh hi, that INTERAC email transfer you gave us a month ago? We've just learned that was a fake, so give us back the $1000 we paid you, please."

What your friend can -- and probably should -- do is contact as many people in authority as he can. Craigslist, your local police department, your local attorney general...they may even themselves refer him to your local FBI branch. The fact that he has the contact information may be of great interest to them (that is, if that information is not itself faked). But your friend has been the victim of a crime, and your local police department or attorney general can help him sort out what he needs to do now to recover from it. Sadly, he is probably not the only person who is falling prey to this kind of scam these days, so they have probaby had a lot of experience in helping victims recover from this.

Whatever else he does, he should STOP doing "business" with this guy immediately.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:31 PM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


So the first thing these Nigerians did is transfer $1000 to some guy they found on Craigslist? Why weren't they worried that your friend would just keep the $1000 and disappear?

The answer is: they weren't worried because the transfer wasn't real.

Your friend is already fucked. He's fucked because he is stupid and greedy. Everything about this situation screams SCAM—and your friend knows it—but he went ahead and did it anyway because he believed he was the scammer, not the victim.

Hope he learns something for his trouble.
posted by ryanrs at 9:35 PM on June 30, 2009


That could be worse for your friend, I had a friend who had a scammer try to recruit him for that one. It's probably a form of identity theft, the scammer acquires the bank account details of a victim in any number of ways. They need a way to get the money out of the country and cover their tracks, so they find someone like your friend. The scammer transfers the money from the victim's account to your friend, your friend takes his cut, and then wires the money out of the country. Once the victim notices the money missing they call the police. The police find a clear paper trail to your friends legitimate account, and a wire transfer that leads nowhere. Your friend has likely committed a serious crime and the cops won't care if he claims he didn't know he was breaking the law. He needs to talk to a lawyer ASAP.
posted by TungstenChef at 9:36 PM on June 30, 2009


PowerCat: Just to clarify, most answers claim stealing money off of him, but actually this is how it happened.

He made a total of 2 money transfers.

The first time, he got an INTERAC email money transfer. He actually got 1000$ and transfered to his real bank account, withdrew it, kept his cut and sent it using western union. Actual money was involved.

The second time, he went to western union to claim a money transfer in his name for 800$, he got the money in hand and then transferred it to a completely different person in Nigeria

What's up with this, this is very strange but it actually does involve money, not just fake transfers.

My friend did give his address, name and phone number to the scammer, are there any risks for him? he's worried about the situation.


These could very easily still be very fake transfers—the moment when you realize that even though you have money in your hands, you're screwed because you owe the bank a chunk of cash for a screwed-up transfer is the horrifying moment in 419 scams, as Verdandi says above—but my guess is that they're real up to this point. $800 and $1000 are low figures for Nigerian 419ers to shoot for; most likely they're buttering him up so that he'll trust them when they roll out their big score and tell him to pull a transfer $50,000 for them. He'll be trusty, in fact he'll be ecstatic, until he realizes he's royally screwed.

If he's tremendously lucky, these guys have indeed used their real money to string him along like this; that way, when he never writes to them, speaks to them, or otherwise interacts with them again, he'll be up a few bucks. But I wouldn't put it past them to pull the strings and still have those transfers cancel.
posted by koeselitz at 9:41 PM on June 30, 2009


Was your friend was this poster?

As a former cops reporter, I did a few stories on these scams. They all ran the same way. Scammer cuts a big money order to the victim, victim cashes it at their bank and sends back 85 % of the balance and pockets the rest as a fee for the transaction, then 10 to 20 days later the bank realizes the money order is no good and the victim is out of luck. The scary thing is the police officers I talked to said the money orders looked 100 percent legit ... they said it would take an expert to tell it was faked.

So your friend might think he's getting real money for now, but he probably isn't. He should stop while he's behind instead of getting further in the hole. (And if he's getting real money instead of being scammed, well, he's going to get scammed and he should cash his chips out now before he starts defrauding or behind defrauded.
posted by Happydaz at 9:49 PM on June 30, 2009


After thinking about it a bit more, check kiting sounds like it fits the particular details of your friend's situation more closely than identity theft. My friend got a check in the mail with the name of some little old lady in Illinois on it. He called the bank it was from because he was suspicious, and they confirmed she had an account there and that the check was supposed to be for some sort of online bill payment. So your friend is probably financially liable, but not legally liable.
posted by TungstenChef at 9:57 PM on June 30, 2009


From Interac's website

I have been offered a job as an email money transfer agent. Does Interac work with email money transfer businesses?

There have been instances of employment recruitment scams in which Canadian job hunters are hired as agents for "foreign companies". In fact, the job hunters may actually end up being used as "mules" to transfer stolen funds outside of Canada. Anyone who participates, even unknowingly, could be deemed an accomplice to a crime and may be prosecuted. We urge you to fully investigate any such job offers.

How do some of these email money transfer business scams work?

In the typical scenario, the "employer", very often a foreign-based company, poses as a legitimate company looking on job recruitment websites for an agent to represent the company in Canada. The job is to accept payments from Canadian customers on behalf of the foreign company, and then transfer a portion of the proceeds offshore. The employer indicates that a key qualification for the position is that employees must be online banking customers, able to receive funds electronically, using Interac Email Money Transfer.

Once the employee receives the funds in his/her account, he/she is given instructions to transfer the money via a funds wire transfer service to a foreign address. As compensation, the employee or "transfer agent" is paid a percentage of the funds received and transferred. This is often a front for an illegal operation and the unwitting employee may be prosecuted for his or her part in this scheme.

Email money transfer business scams come in a variety of versions. For your reference, click here for a sample of a fraudulent email letter claiming to be from Interac Association.

How can I tell if this job offer is part of a scam operation? The information I am receiving looks very professional.

In order to appear authentic, fraudsters may present employment agreements, websites and other types of information, for example, a detailed contract, outline of employee job responsibilities, compensation, etc. While, these websites and employment agreements may present an appearance of a legitimacy, spelling errors or the use of odd wording may be a sign that the operation is not a legitimate one.

Tips to Protect Yourself

Offers of easy money are often too good to be true. A web-based job that requires you to move funds outside Canada could be a front for an illegal operation. While the opportunity may look appealing, you may end up being subject to criminal prosecution for your role in the operation.

Check any employment-related information for unusual phrasing and look for misspelled words.

If you are suspicious, check with local law enforcement.

Stay aware by checking the following sources of information about fraud:
• www.phonebusters.com
• www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca
• www.recol.ca (Reporting Economic Crime Online)
• www.fcac.gc.ca (Financial Consumer Agency of Canada)
• www.strategis.gc.ca (Industry Canada)

posted by saffry at 12:38 AM on July 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


So Nigerian criminals have his real name, address and phone number... and his bank account number... what could possibly go wrong?

Just to clarify, INTERAC email transfers never reveal the banking information of either party. All you have is their email address, and a password to retrieve the money. I presume there is an enormous amount of crypto jiggery-pokery behind the scenes, but you never ever see someone else's account number.

Second, you can only make an INTERAC transfer if the money is physically in your account, as in available to be withdrawn via a teller or bank machine. My guess is that if A kites a cheque (usual cheque hold/clear time in Canada is 5 days; can be reduced to 0 depending on credit, available funds in your account, etc) into their own account, and then sends that money to B, the bank will go after A for the cash, not B, because B was (probably) acting in good faith in receiving the money.

So it's unlikely that your friend can get screwed out of money, because actual money is being sent and the burden is (I think) on the sender to only send money they actually have... but he very easily could get done for facilitating some other murky enterprise.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:53 AM on July 1, 2009


delmoi: Do you actually know anything about Nigerian financial regulations? There are actually quite a few, one of which is that it is, or at least was in the past, illegal to transfer money out of the country. I don't know if that's still the case. So it was a huge hassle to transfer money out of the country for legitimate reasons. The 419 thing mostly came about because it was a fairly poor English speaking country connected to the internet, although there is an enormous amount of financial corruption and scamming going on as well. Nigerian banks are actually popular in other African countries, and more trusted then local institutions in some places (according to that comment).

I do have a certain amount of understanding of Nigerian financial regulations. My father was stationed there for six years in the Peace Corps, for whatever that's worth, so it was something I heard about a lot.

My understanding is that, first of all, while there are plenty of regulations, there's almost always very little enforcement. Enforcement of law in Nigeria, as in many nations in Africa, has traditionally ebbed and flowed with the transitions of one clan to another as heads of the government. It's just that almost nobody has a vested interest in keeping scammers from scamming Americans; for the scammers, it's a point of patriotic pride, and for everybody else it's just harmless bluster since they're not the ones being victimized. In fact, I do realize that the ‘419’ in 419 scam derives from the section of the Nigerian criminal code that deals with cheating—a section that is, characteristically, not really enforced at all in this case.

Nigeria is indeed more cosmopolitan than most countries in Africa—it is, after all, the most populous nation on the continent. (Great music, too. Fela Kuti was a badass.) But that also means it's full of all kinds of interesting subcultures and movements. There's a whole weird group feeling these 419 guys have, and pride in the fact that they're ripping off foreigners, like they're some cool gangsters helping out Africa.
posted by koeselitz at 12:57 AM on July 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


dirtynumbangelboy: Just to clarify, INTERAC email transfers never reveal the banking information of either party. All you have is their email address, and a password to retrieve the money. I presume there is an enormous amount of crypto jiggery-pokery behind the scenes, but you never ever see someone else's account number.

Second, you can only make an INTERAC transfer if the money is physically in your account, as in available to be withdrawn via a teller or bank machine. My guess is that if A kites a cheque (usual cheque hold/clear time in Canada is 5 days; can be reduced to 0 depending on credit, available funds in your account, etc) into their own account, and then sends that money to B, the bank will go after A for the cash, not B, because B was (probably) acting in good faith in receiving the money.

So it's unlikely that your friend can get screwed out of money, because actual money is being sent and the burden is (I think) on the sender to only send money they actually have... but he very easily could get done for facilitating some other murky enterprise.


Yeah, I'd never heard of an INTERAC transfer; but I guess it's strictly a Canadian thing, and it looks very secure.

I poked around on the 419eater forum, and it looks like 419 scammers have been known to try to skirt INTERAC through phishing attempts; that is, they create fake web sites designed to get you to enter your information so that they can access your account.

Interestingly, you can see a bunch of these spoofed sites if you google "INTERAC email money transfer," some of them very intricate.
posted by koeselitz at 1:10 AM on July 1, 2009


I recently listened to a Radio 4 documentary on credit card fraudsters, in particular large scale organised gangs. This is exactly one of the steps they use to launder their money... and the person doing it ends up with nothing, if he/she is lucky, most likely they'll be scammed too. Avoid.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:24 AM on July 1, 2009


Delmoi: The 419 thing mostly came about because it was a fairly poor English speaking country connected to the internet

419 predates the Internet. My father received multiple snail mail 419 invitations as far back as the 1970's.
posted by syzygy at 4:58 AM on July 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Your friend is a scammer and a scamee. Here's what will happen if things go badly: your friend will be out some of his personal income, prosecuted for various types of fraud, and subject to various civil suits.

he's the fall guy. this shit will come crashing down around his ears just as soon as one of the scammed people calls the cops.

I doubt any of that will happen. As other people have said, your friend is cashing bad money orders and will be liable for the dollar amount of the money orders.
posted by malp at 7:04 AM on July 1, 2009


He should call the police ASAP.
posted by winston at 7:31 AM on July 1, 2009


Even if the transfers so far have been real money (not sure how long this has been going on) they may be "training" him and his bank account to believe it's legit. Sooner or later a larger transfer comes through, and that's the one that gets him. Or a series of them...

Knowing his contact info probably only means they'll pester him (by phone/mail/email) once he wants out. I've heard they're very very persistent once they get their hooks into you.
posted by powpow at 7:40 AM on July 1, 2009


OK Here it is fellow people,
I am the guy who is doing this. This is exactly what happens......
First of all I Sent him my resume on craigslist.....it was a random thing, I was just sending out CV's to random places for a jobs......he sent me a reply back and then I replied back asking to confirm legitimacy as the norm would do....we contacted through msn msg and also through phone contact...We did establish trust on both levels as one of the first few posts replied. But I did not give my Social/bank account number or anything in the security genre....All that happened was he sent me an email transfer of $1000 to my EMAIL!!!....I had to go into my email, just like you would do if a family/friend and picked my bank....$1000 was wired to my account and I picked it up and withdrew it. It was then in my pocket.....$30 was for gas, however I had a bike so I pocketed it. I had to transfer the rest after the Western Union fees of 63$ and sent 907$ in Nigerian funds....That was it...I went home with 30$ and had a good night...in the ad as well, I get 150$ per transaction as per the email said... I will see if it pans out and keep it low..We are still communicating through msn and everything is saved for my sake let me know your thoughts...
btw..the person under this username is not me...it is my friend
posted by PowerCat at 8:55 AM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, you still think this is a good idea, huh?
posted by ryanrs at 10:17 AM on July 1, 2009


let me know your thoughts...

I think you are a fool. I think you are not paying attention to what everybody is telling you, and I think your critical thinking is being clouded by your desire for this easy-money scheme to be legitimate. It is not legitimate.
posted by Balonious Assault at 10:17 AM on July 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Dude.

Walk away. Walk the fuck away.

Hundreds of people have been wiped out by these bastards. As others have said, if you're really lucky, they've been building trust with you using legit transfers to this point.

Despite the fact that you had the money in your hands, if the legal contract (the transfer) that money is based is fake, that money isn't actually yours. It's numbers in a computer system that's going to turn into a debt as soon as one of those transfers is found to be fraudulent.

You are the fish on the hook for that money, and banks do not play catch and release.
posted by Decimask at 10:24 AM on July 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


We are still communicating through msn and everything is saved for my sake let me know your thoughts...

If you keep doing this, you are either going to jail or you will be losing thousands of dollars. Update this thread with your latest tale of woe when that happens. Or stop being stupid.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:06 AM on July 1, 2009


And I'd also suggest that you:
  1. Start looking for $1,800 in case those first 2 transfers were forged.
  2. Call the police.
Good luck.
posted by Decimask at 11:08 AM on July 1, 2009


How many thoughts will it to convince you what you are doing is criminal and at best you will lost thousands of dollars, at worst you will go to jail?
If it's just one more thought, add mine to the pile.
You are being so incredibly foolish, I almost believe you are a troll.
posted by vincele at 11:19 AM on July 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also: in a month or so from now? Sit down and read this.
posted by bhance at 11:25 AM on July 1, 2009


Congratulations, you just gave $907 of your own money to a complete stranger in another country! Don't beat yourself up about it, lots of smart people get momentarily blinded by the promise of easy money.

And: Of course they "established trust" with you -- that's what they do, the scam doesn't work without it. Stop communicating with them immediately unless you want to lose even more money and feel even stupider when the bank realizes the money transfer is a fake.
posted by chowflap at 11:37 AM on July 1, 2009


Congratulations, you just gave $907 of your own money to a complete stranger in another country!

Actually no. Please to be familiarising yourself with how INTERAC email transfers work before making such comments. BIG HINT: Canada != USA.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:53 AM on July 1, 2009


you: All that happened was he sent me an email transfer of $1000 to my EMAIL!!!....I had to go into my email, just like you would do if a family/friend and picked my bank....$1000 was wired to my account and I picked it up and withdrew it. It was then in my pocket.....$30 was for gas, however I had a bike so I pocketed it. I had to transfer the rest after the Western Union fees of 63$ and sent 907$ in Nigerian funds....That was it...I went home with 30$ and had a good night...in the ad as well, I get 150$ per transaction as per the email said...

Okay, let's go over precisely what's happening here.

This is most likely a fake-check-cashing scheme. Check-cashing scams are popular on Craigslist. I know that might not have occurred to you (since you haven't seen a check at all) but here's why I think that's what this is: email money transfers only work within Canada for people who have Canadian bank accounts. Therefore, the money transferred to your account could not have originated in Nigeria; it had to come from within Canada. But this is almost certainly quite sleazy; the biggest tip-off to this is the fact that the person has chosen specifically to use a Western Union money transfer (rather than an electronic transfer to a Nigerian Bank)—Western Union is notorious for its lax rules and for the difficulty of tracing origin and destination of fund transactions, and as such is the preferred choice of scammers.

So: if the money's coming from a Canadian bank, but the scammer is in Nigeria, who is sending you money? Most likely you are only one of two people being scammed; probably the other person is being sent physical fake checks and being asked to cash them and wire the money to you. This is a variation on a very common Craigslist scam. It's much sneakier, however; in the average fake-check scam, what happens is:

a. Scammer has some pretense to send a check (e.g. 'I'd like to buy the bike you listed on Craigslist, but I'm visiting Africa and won't be back for a few months…')
b. Scammer 'accidentally' writes the check for WAY too much ($1000 too much) and begs a favor: 'could you cash the check and mail the change back to me? If you do, I'll let you keep $200!'
c. Happy dupe goes and cashes the check, keeps the $200 that the 'generous' scammer offered, and sends cash back.
d. Two days later, he is contacted by his bank, who says that the check was fake and that he owes them $1000.
e. Someone cries himself to sleep every night for the next month.


This scam, while pretty successful, has one tough point for scammers: it's hard to for them to convince somebody to mail them cash sight-unseen, especially when the address is in Nigeria. I imagine they lose a number of people when they ask for that cash to be mailed back, although, again, they're pretty successful.

So you see why what they're pulling with you is, in its way, genius, right? Instead of saying ‘please mail me cash in Nigeria,’ I'm sure they're telling the other guy who's getting scammed: ‘Oh, sorry; I wrote that check for way too much. My name is [PowerCat's friend], I live in Montreal, and here's my email address. Just email-transfer the difference to me, okay?’ It ends the same, however; somewhere in Canada, some guy who thinks he just made money will get a call from his bank, and they'll tell him that he owes them $1000 for the bad check he cashed.

Only in this scenario, the dupe will have your name and email address. What will happen is that he'll go to the police and say: ‘Hey, this guy in Montreal named [PowerCat's friend] totally ripped me off for $1000! See, here's his email address, and here's the bank transfer he used to do it!’ The police will subpoena the email money transfer, see that you withdrew the $1000 in cash, and discover your name, address, and phone number. They will come to your house and arrest you for fraud. Eventually you or your lawyer will get your emails and MSN messages admitted into evidence and it'll come out that you were actually just another dupe in the con, but by then you'll have paid enough in legal fees and such to have ruined your life for a good six months.

You may not believe me on this. You may not want to believe me. I am certain this is what's going on. But here are some points for you to consider, even if you think this story is implausible bullshit:

  • That transfer must have come from within Canada. This might seem like a good thing, but what it means is that, unlike Western Union money transfers, email money transfers are easily traceable. No matter what's going on (and can you think of anything good this could be about?) if it's at all criminal, you will be the first one the police come looking for. The cops don't have a hard time tracing money transfers. They will find you, and you will be in trouble. Yes, it will generally turn out that you didn't do anything wrong beyond trusting a stranger on the internet, but it will take a lot of effort to clear your name, and there's no guarantee that you'll even manage to do that.
  • Accepting money transfers or cashing checks for people you met on Craigslist is the most certain recipe you can find for being scammed. This happens all the time, every day; when Craigslist tells you that ‘anyone who asks you to [wire money via Western Union] is a scammer,’ they're not joking. And they're not wrong. This is extremely common; trust me.
  • Nigerian scammers are more common than you think. This is a whole subculture in Nigeria. There are companies that employ people to run 419 scams for them in Nigeria; there are whole neighborhoods full of cyber-cafes that stay open but lock their doors between 10pm and 7am just so that 419 scammers can work in peace and quiet. They even have their own music videos:

    I go chop your dollar!
    I go take your money, disappear!
    419 is just a game—
    You are the loser
    I am the winner!


    Be careful, my friend. I'd hate to have PowerCat coming in here to let us know that you've been taken off to prison.

  • posted by koeselitz at 11:54 AM on July 1, 2009 [142 favorites]


    Damn. Thanks koeselitz. I was trying to figure out how the money track worked in this, and you've cleared that up. Flagged as fantastic.
    posted by Decimask at 12:54 PM on July 1, 2009


    Happy to, Decimask…this sort of detective work is fun.

    …in fact, I think you [PowerCat's Friend] should call the police right now. You're realizing now that it's a scam; better contact them and talk to them than have them come find you later.
    posted by koeselitz at 1:03 PM on July 1, 2009


    Oh, and one other thing that occurs to me: since Craigslist scammers tend to like to pull this kind of scam with people who are legitimately selling something (like the bike in my example) it's actually quite likely that they're (planning on) using you as a conduit for multiple scams they're pulling. So: you could very well soon start receiving angry emails from all over Canada accusing you of fraud.
    posted by koeselitz at 1:10 PM on July 1, 2009


    All this information has really proven useful in giving me a better understanding of the whole process. korselitz really explained it well and I will definitely want to know more about it in the future.
    Unfortunately, my friend is unemployed and sometimes too trusty. I just hope things will turn out for the best!
    I'll post on this thread when I get more info about what will happen next.
    Thanks again.
    posted by PowerCat at 2:21 PM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


    From the interac site:
    How can I tell if this job offer is part of a scam operation? The information I am receiving looks very professional.

    In order to appear authentic, fraudsters may present employment agreements, websites and other types of information, for example, a detailed contract, outline of employee job responsibilities, compensation, etc. While, these websites and employment agreements may present an appearance of a legitimacy, spelling errors or the use of odd wording may be a sign that the operation is not a legitimate one.
    um...
    posted by Chuckles at 8:43 PM on July 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


    Yeah, I'd thought of that possibility, too, Chuckles: it's called ‘phishing,’ and it's an easy way for scammers to get your bank info. But it seems like this couldn't be what's going on here, since his bank really did honor the transfer, and since Interac email money transfers are instantaneously verified, so they would've known it was fake.

    Most likely it's the fake check thing, I think.
    posted by koeselitz at 9:09 PM on July 1, 2009


    I'm confused.. I was just pointing out the grammar error.
    posted by Chuckles at 9:24 PM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


    You know, Power Cat, you too can look up the number and call the police. Might save your friend the hassle.
    posted by nat at 1:08 AM on July 2, 2009


    To your friend: Don't call the police. Call a lawyer. If you can't afford a lawyers, if there is a place with free legal advice, go there. The police are not your friends in such an instance. If you are lucky, you are only a victim or being set up. Otherwise, you may have acted criminally like someone who carries a contraband package past customs because someone asked him to.
    posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:18 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Your "friend" can test koeselitz's hypothesis by emailing the person who sent you the INTERAC transfer. Or is the transfer emailed to you by INTERAC itself? If you have the sender's email address, send them a message and ask what they think is going on.

    It could be a throw-away email that was used, but you'd think the other dupe would be highly suspicious if the Nigerian asked him to make a fake email address in order to send the INTERAC transfer.
    posted by jsonic at 3:03 PM on July 2, 2009


    A friend of mine apparently got involved with something like this once, although the other party was (claiming to be) a hot Russian woman advertising herself as some kind of mail order bride or date, or maybe just an internet penpal.

    From memory, he made one or two transfers before the Australian Federal Police knocked on his door & told him never to do it again, or they'd lay charges against him.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 5:27 PM on July 2, 2009


    There is a great article in the Washington Post today about this very scam (although in this case, it involved eastern europe, and not nigeria)
    posted by genome4hire at 9:53 PM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Well it's been about a week. My friend's still doing his "business deals" and nothing happened yet. I'll keep this page updated next week...
    posted by PowerCat at 3:31 PM on July 9, 2009


    Well it's been about a week. My friend's still doing his "business deals" and nothing happened yet.

    That's because the banks probably wouldn't catch a problem themselves for about a month. He's just digging himself in deeper.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:29 AM on July 11, 2009


    They even have their own music videos:

    To be fair, the guy who made that music video did get arrested in a crack down a couple years ago.
    posted by delmoi at 8:50 PM on July 13, 2009


    I'm a little late to the party, but I figure I'd post anyway since PowerCat said he'd be checking back in a week.

    Read this excerpt from this page:

    "The use of checks in a scam hinges on a US law (and common practice in other countries) concerning checks: when an account holder presents a check for deposit or to cash, the bank must (or in other countries, usually) make the funds available to the account holder within 1-5 business days, regardless of how long it actually takes for the check to clear and funds to be transferred from the issuing bank.[27] The check clearing process normally takes 7–10 days and can in fact take up to a month when dealing with foreign banks. The time between the funds appearing as available to the account holder and the check clearing is known as the "float", during which time the bank could technically be said to have floated a loan to the account holder to be covered with the funds from the bank clearing the check."

    What will happen to your friend, in the near future, is that the bank will find out that the checks he cashed are no good, and will come after him for the money. Your friend will be on the hook for all the money withdrawn (and IANAL, but my guess is that he could potentially face fraud charges).
    posted by vall at 1:45 PM on July 21, 2009


    This is why the superior order of events on AskMe is:

    1) Read
    2) Respond

    Doing it the other way 'round causes people to say things like "the bank will find out that the checks he cashed are no good", not knowing that the friend has in fact cashed no cheques.
    posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:35 PM on July 21, 2009


    Doing it the other way 'round causes people to say things like "the bank will find out that the checks he cashed are no good", not knowing that the friend has in fact cashed no cheques.

    Ah, but if you look in the original post:

    "He gets a transfer, sometimes western union, sometimes an interac or email transfer, he then has to cash it and transer it to someone else. The guy usually wants this done within the next hour or so."

    Those transfers are what we are saying are fake.

    As someone once said, this is why the superior order of events on AskMe is:

    1) Read
    2) Respond.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:06 AM on July 22, 2009


    @dirtynumbangelboy

    Well, I did read, and I did understand the OP. Maybe I should have spent more time elaborating that the check scam, while not specifically the same as what the OP describes, follows the same principle as the scam the OP's friend is involved with.

    Someone sends the OP a fake money transfer, check, or whatever. It's some sort of fake financial transaction that requires the OP to visit some sort of financial institution, take some money out, keep some and send the rest to the original sender. Since these transactions take time to fully clear through the financial institution, it will take a while for the bank to realize they are fake. And since most laws require that the bank provide the person trying to "cash" the proceeds of this transaction in a shorter time frame than the one required for the transaction to clear, by the time OP has mailed the money back to the untraceable sender, the bank will figure out that the transaction was no good, and will come after the OP. Even if the sender is traceable, odds are they are in a place where law enforcement where the OP lives can't get to them, and if they could, the OP was the one that conducted the transaction, took the money, and used it, so he's going to be on the hook, and will most likely not be able to prove that he was scammed.

    I hope this clears it up. I'll be more specific next time.
    posted by vall at 7:24 AM on July 22, 2009


    *sigh*

    I've already explained at least once, twice probably, exactly how INTERAC email transfers work. Here's the hint again: Canada is not the USA, and we do some things differently up here.

    INTERAC email transfers cannot be faked without a great deal of effort (if at all).

    Western Union orders can be, but followups from the OP have indicated most of the transactions are via INTERAC. Which, again, cannot be faked.
    posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:20 PM on July 22, 2009


    Interac email transfers may be difficult to fake, so you can point out that my lumping it with Western Union advance fee scams, or claiming that they are indeed fake, might be misleading assumptions. That's fair enough. That being said, there are instances of scams using Interac (which seem to use legitimate email transfers), as reported by the Ontario Provincial Police, for instance. The link has a list of resources that one can use to contact authorities to try to find out if this is a legitimate operation.

    Here's what they say on that page:

    "The job hunters are actually being used as “mules,” to transfer stolen funds outside of Canada. Anyone who participates, even unknowingly, would become an accomplice to the crime and can be prosecuted."

    The description on the link I provided sounds extremely similar to what the OP mentioned, so I wanted to emphasize that the OP should tell his friend to be careful about what he's doing.
    posted by vall at 5:03 PM on July 22, 2009


    I also wanted to add that, even if legitimate INTERAC transfers cannot be faked, it is entirely possible that your friend was redirected to a phishing site that mimicked INTERAC (or, a site that, while comminicating with INTERAC simultaneously redirected his information directly to the scammer). Of course, if he typed in the URL rather than clicking a link, this isn't a possibility, but I just wanted to throw that out there and clarify a point someone else made earlier.

    In the US at least, bank account numbers are not difficult to find, and it is entirely possible that, armed with your friend's name and address, they found his bank account number and deposited fake checks while pretending to do an "unfakeable" INTERAC transfer. Pretty sophisticated, but not entirely impossible.

    That said, I think dirtynumbangelboy's scenario that your friend's the middleman is MUCH more probable.

    I hope you will let us know if your friend is doing ok once s/he gets caught, and what the actual scam was (Unfortunately, s/he will definitely get caught).

    Just musing aloud, but I wonder if it makes any difference when someone is prosecuted if it can be proven that he sought advice on the legality of what he was doing? Does that ever make the punishment worse? If so, some additional advice: permanently erase cookies and internet history so that there is no trace of this thread or your MeFi username on your friend's computer.
    posted by lesli212 at 5:05 PM on July 22, 2009


    I thought the likely mechanism was already established up thread. The person sending the EMT is probably a victim of the scam as well. If the sender was duped, then the money isn't real, and if the sender can't cover the amount the bank will probably try to undo the transaction.
    posted by Chuckles at 11:11 PM on July 22, 2009


    I know this thread is getting stale but I thought I'd point out this NYT article as well: Online Scammers Prey On The Jobless.

    ... since this is one of those threads I periodically revisit, waiting to see what became of the situation.
    posted by bhance at 4:54 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


    So it turns out that the transfers bounced and the bank had him pay all the money back.
    The scammers won this one.
    posted by PowerCat at 5:39 PM on November 18, 2009


    A shame that it turned out this way, but thanks for the update.
    posted by sambosambo at 7:40 PM on November 19, 2009


    My condolences.

    and, I hate to say "we told you so", but...
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:02 PM on November 19, 2009


    Just for the record, can you tell us how much cash this whole fiasco cost your friend?
    posted by bhance at 1:35 PM on December 12, 2009


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