I am getting scammed on craigslist and now I'm getting a bit worried. What should I do? Details inside.
June 12, 2010 6:34 AM   Subscribe

I am getting scammed on craigslist and now I'm getting a bit worried. What should I do? Details inside.

A couple weeks ago I posted an item for sale. I got a response from someone saying they were interested, and that they would pay extra if I took the post down and assured them that the item would go to them. I agreed. This person said that they would be sending me a check and that as soon as the check was delivered and cashed, someone would come to pick up the item. So I stupidly gave out my name, address, and phone number.

After googling this person's name, it becomes apparent that I am being scammed. The scam is that this person sends stolen checks worth much more than the price of the item and then asks that the remainder be sent through Western Union.

Yesterday I received the check through FedEx. The check is for much much more than the agreed amount. I also received an email saying that this person's secretary accidentally made it out for too much and that as soon as I wire transfer the remainder, someone will come pick up the item. The return address on the envelope is not the same name that I was given by the person through email, and is also on the other side of the country from me, thankfully. The address that I was given to send the remaining money through Western Union is also on the other side of the country, but to a different name in a different state.

What should I do? Go to the police? Try and cash the check and send the rest through Western Union after alerting the police there so that maybe this person can get arrested? Do nothing?

Thanks. I am just getting worried because this person has my information and is also sending me increasingly pushy emails.
posted by DeltaForce to Work & Money (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely go to the police. Definitely do not cash the check or discuss this with the scammed any further. Limiting your involvement at this point is key.
posted by lizzicide at 6:37 AM on June 12, 2010

Go to the police first. Don't cash the check to wire back the remainder, then contact the police- evidence you gather on your own may be inadmissible. Pushy e-mails can't hurt you, and I think it's unlikely they would send a goon to your house to force you to cash a check, so just ignore them and do what the police says.
posted by headspace at 6:38 AM on June 12, 2010

Do not cash that check. You will be responsible for the money when it does not clear.

Go to the police. Put your original post back up if you want to sell the item. Do not talk to the scammer again.

Alternatively, check out 419 eater.
posted by skyl1n3 at 6:39 AM on June 12, 2010

I'd suggest:

A) Talking to your local police and see if they have any suggestions. They may wish to prosecute this, they may be busy.

B) Depending on the outcome of A, telling the people that you have alerted the police and expect to be left alone.

Alternately, you may wish to contact the people who are listed on the check (their name and address should be on it), and let them know that at least one of their checks has been stolen. Contacting the issuing bank would also be wise.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:40 AM on June 12, 2010

Like everyone else is saying, take it straight to the police. You absolutely will be on the hook once the bank figures out the check was fake, and you will be the one to pay them back.

Because the check was mailed, you may want to involve the Fedex as well, but I'm not as sure about that.
posted by Sufi at 6:52 AM on June 12, 2010

Try and cash the check and send the rest through Western Union

Absolutely do not do this. You know it's a scam, and knowingly participating would very likely be criminal on your part.

All the scammer has is your name and contact information. You haven't written him a check or given him your SSN. Contact your local police if you're concerned for your safety, but if I were you, I wouldn't be too worried: this scammer is making money off of the people who don't realize it's a scam, it's not really worth it to him track down the people who do.

If your local police aren't able to help you make a report about the scam itself, there's a form here to make a report about this type of scam.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:59 AM on June 12, 2010

This exact same thing happened to us, every last detail except we didn't get past the secretary accidentally sent the wrong check part. We sent an email back saying that we did not do business this way, that we did not intend to deposit or cash the check if and when it arrived (it never did by the way), that we recognized this as a scam, and that any further contact from them would be dealt with by furnishing law enforcement with the check and all other details. We did not hear another peep from them. Do the same and do not worry.

Wait a week or so and repost your item. Lesson learned.
posted by tamitang at 7:17 AM on June 12, 2010 [10 favorites]

Send an e-mail saying you're voiding the check and if they're interested in the item they can send a new check for the correct amount, and that if you don't hear back in x time you will relist. Voiding and keeping the check would be sufficient, but to be a good citizen give the check to the police and call the issuing bank. Wait until you (surprise) don't hear from the scammers, and relist.

But honestly? The police probably can't do too much, and if you sound confident then you won't ever hear from the scammers again, they're primarily interested in easy targets.
posted by anaelith at 7:36 AM on June 12, 2010

Sufi: "Because the check was mailed, you may want to involve the Fedex as well, but I'm not as sure about that."

I assume you mean the Feds. The postal inspector would be the one handling this, since it is a pretty classic case of Mail Fraud.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:38 AM on June 12, 2010

Only accept cash or a legit money order for CL transactions. If it is a large amount, get a marker that checks for counterfeit.
posted by k8t at 7:43 AM on June 12, 2010

The postal inspector can only get involved when something goes through the postal service. Fedex and Western Union are not the postal service.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:44 AM on June 12, 2010

Nth'ing police police police. I can understand why you're upset about this, but I wouldn't worry too much about the scammer having your contact info. They're interested in ripping off money, and probably lack a local physical presence.

Pity these criminals ruin craigslist for honest buyers who may be genuinely interested in a particular non-local transaction. Not to mention the annoyance of the cut and pasted emails they send about "purchasing your item."
posted by applemeat at 7:50 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

These kinds of scams have become so ubiquitous that there's really nothing your local police can do, other than to congratulate you on being savvy enough to realize you're being scammed.

With the victims and the perpetrators being in different jurisdictions, often with various go-between addresses involved, it's almost impossible to track down the scam artists, let alone prosecute them.

Our police department sends out news releases periodically to warn the public about scams like this, so you might want to contact your local department just to give them a head's up that it's happening in your area, but they really won't be able to do anything tangible on an individual basis.
posted by amyms at 7:50 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Void the cheque, send them an email saying you've torn it up and have sold the item to someone else. Scammers pump these things out and just rely on a fraction of people to get duped -- it's not worth their time to pursue it any further once people realise it's a scam.
posted by modernnomad at 8:10 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Cashing the check hurts you in two ways:
1. of course you lose the money you send back because the original check will fail
2. scammers use cashed checks to get your account info and start stealing from you directly.

Police, police, police.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:16 AM on June 12, 2010

Either go to the cops or just throw it out. I can't imagine it's really worth investigating one of an infinite number of craigslist scams. If you cash it, you will be screwed beyond comprehension.
posted by Slinga at 8:25 AM on June 12, 2010

Nothing good can come from any further communication with the scammer. Do not respond to any further emails from them. No ultimatums, no threats, no explanations. They'll give up quickly.

It's worth calling the police (on their non-emergency number) to tell them about what's happened, but depending on where you live, there's only a small chance that they'll do anything about it. Since you still have the check, they may want that since check fraud is a traditional crime that they'll be accustomed to dealing with.

Do not do anything to the check. Do not contact the scammer. Relist your item, go on with your life and don't let it bother you. Scammers are lazy and use the same MOI over and over. This is just part of doing business on craigslist, so next time you'll recognize it right away.
posted by dodecapus at 8:50 AM on June 12, 2010

Did you bother to read the scams page on Craigslist? Your scam is right there as well as answers to all your questions about who and what to report.

Craigslist is ONLY for local transactions--meeting face to face and selling/buying something. Everything else is a scam or if it ain't, it'll do till the scam gets here.
posted by dobbs at 8:59 AM on June 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

This is a classic scam. All you really need to do at this point is NOTHING. Don't cash the check. Don't refund the difference. Don't contact the scammer to explain what you're doing. You came perilously close to falling for it, but you didn't. Congratulations. Move on with your life.

Feel free to contact the police, of course, but the chances they'll do anything are very slim.
posted by jon1270 at 9:51 AM on June 12, 2010

DeltaForce: “Try and cash the check and send the rest through Western Union after alerting the police there so that maybe this person can get arrested?”

There is lots of good advice in this thread thus far – you really need to go to the police without cashing the check. But I think you've misunderstood the way this scam works, and it seems important to let you in on why you shouldn't cash the check.

Even beyond the moral issue that Meg_Murry brings up, you should know that if you cash the check, you will owe the bank every penny of the dollar amount for which you cash it. This is the way this scam works:

(1) They write you a check for way too much, and say "oops! Oh well, just send me the difference; you can even keep a bunch for yourself!"

(2) You walk into a bank at which you have an account, and since they know you, they accept the check (so long as it looks clean and the bank checks out) and hand you the cash value on the front.

(3) You walk out the door thinking "wow, that worked!" and then send a chunk to the scammer, keeping the rest for yourself, believing you've gotten off nicely.

(4) Two or three (sometimes even five) days later, when the transaction is actually processed, the bank realizes that the check was crap, and demands that you pay back the balance. They know your name, your SSN, where you live, etc, so there's really no point in fighting it.

Seriously, cashing that check might not even "get you in trouble," but it will cost you a lot of money. Bad idea.
posted by koeselitz at 10:31 AM on June 12, 2010

A classic "I don't want to get involved" response would be to act like nothing happened- behave as if you'd never received the check.

Repost your item. Eventually the scammer may be in touch and you simply reply that you thought that buyer changed his/her mind, since you "never heard from them." Hopefully in the meantime a legit buyer will contact you. Shred the check.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 11:51 AM on June 12, 2010

It's worth reporting to the police. The scammer still has to get the money from Western Union for the scam to work, which is the perfect time for the local police there to arrest him/her red-handed.
posted by Menthol at 4:55 PM on June 12, 2010

It's probably a waste of time going to the police. Often times the western union instructions will direct the funds to a foreign country, and any police involvement will be irrelevant.
posted by jameslavelle3 at 9:00 AM on June 13, 2010

Just go to the police. I might tell the police, deposit the check and send them neither the item nor the remainder. But I'm a dick, and my girlfriend would probably convince me to just have nothing to do with it instead. LISTEN TO MY GIRLFRIEND SHE'S WISE
posted by klangklangston at 9:05 PM on June 13, 2010

What I dont understand (as someone who currently has a "certified check" in his wallet for $4500 from a scammer) is how the scammer gets the "overpaid" money back without getting nailed. They have to establish some type of address in order to receive the money back, correct? The scammer who sent me the check has not followed up on the fact they fed-exed me a check, so I dont know what they normally ask for. It seems the cops could track them down somehow with an address, unless it's overseas somewhere.

Also, if you're going to post a scam, please track down someone who can read and write English and have them proofread your email before it goes out. This is what I have received (3x from 3 different ppl so far):


I am interested in the room you post online, i will like to know more about the place. Pls get back to me as soon as you can get this email. Thanks and have a nice day.

Tina Darlington

I replied to the last one asking for their home address, so I could send a squad of mercenaries over to incinerate their house with flamethrowers. I got this response:

you must be a stupid fellow,naturally you are very empty upstairs. nothing in your big head.cowards.
posted by bhb at 12:02 PM on June 14, 2010

That's why they want you to use Western Union to send the money back to them. WU only requires a photo ID to pick up a money transfer, plus it's international.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:57 PM on June 14, 2010

yes, but can't i tip off WU that the person picking up the money is committing mail fraud?
posted by bhb at 7:45 AM on June 15, 2010

Well, again, it's not mail fraud until something gets sent through the postal service, which is exactly why these people use Fedex and Western Union which aren't the postal service.

And what is WU supposed to do if you tell them that you want to send money to someone committing fraud? They'll tell you not to send the money and that you'd be committing a crime yourself if you do. The most that they could do would be to contact the local police and give them the name that the fraudster wants the money sent to (possibly a made-up name), but that's not new information and you can do that yourself without ever involving Western Union. Moreover, there's nothing that local police could do with that information since from their end no crime has yet been committed.

To actually catch someone in this situation would require coordination and cooperation between local authorities on both ends of the scam, and a lot of resources to stake out a WU station and wait for someone to come pick up the money. Plus I don't know how WU works but if there's any chance that money sent can be picked up at any agent location then it would be practically impossible to catch without extraordinary measures. That's why these scams are popular, because they shift most of the risk onto the mark who is liable for the full amount of the bad check and whose identity is well known by their bank.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:21 AM on June 15, 2010

I'd just print everything out (the original listing, all email communications, etc.) and take it, along with the check and the FedEx envelope and everything else, down to the local police and turn it over to them. Then wash your hands of it. If you get any further emails, print them out and take them, too.

Unless your local police are far more sophisticated than any I've ever dealt with, they'll be better equipped to deal with paper than if you start bringing them files on disk or emailing them stuff or other methods. So just print it.

It's interesting how they used FedEx rather than the USPS, because if they had just mailed it than my advice would be to go to your local PO, ask for the Postmaster, and give him all the stuff so it can get forwarded to the local Postal Inspectors. But they don't have jurisdiction over FedEx ... so the best you can do is the local police, and maybe they'll send it to the police who have jurisdiction in the area where the package was sent from.

How interested the police will be in doing anything will depend a lot on what their caseload is ... I've lived in places where I suspect something like that would go straight into the 'circular file,' just because it doesn't involve anyone lying dead in a pool of blood and thus doesn't deserve anyone's time. But I've also lived in places where finding the remains of a stolen Amazon package dumped in my yard was cause to send out two detectives and take a written statement and photos. It all depends on what else they have going on that week.

Pass it off to them and you'll have done your duty, there's really not a whole lot else that you really want to or should do.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:38 AM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

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