What scam am I a victim of?
May 31, 2013 7:53 PM   Subscribe

I applied for an administrative assistant job posted on Craigslist and a man offered me a position for a start-up business in the small mid-western city we live in. We exchanged some e-mails and agreed to the terms that I would run some errands for him (for pay) while he was overseas for 3 weeks. He sent me a check for $2500, $300 of which is my pay and the rest is to complete some tasks. The check is a cashier's check from a third party who owes him money. This all feels fishy and I feel stupid. What's really going on?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's pretty straightforward. You're going to pay for a bunch of his stuff, then that cashier's cheque is going to bounce, and he is going to disappear leaving you on the hook for $2200.
posted by mhoye at 7:56 PM on May 31, 2013 [23 favorites]

Have you cashed the check? I think you should return it, or turn it over to the police.

Someone else can illuminate the scam, I forget how it works, but I know you should not deposit that check or try to cash it.

If you've deposited or cashed the check, please update via the mods.
posted by jbenben at 7:57 PM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

You'll cash the cheque, forward most of the money on, then the bank will discover the cheque is fake & come after you for the money. Your "employer" will be nowhere to be found.
posted by goshling at 7:57 PM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

The check is fake, you will not be reimbursed the money you front for the "errands"/"tasks."
posted by payoto at 7:57 PM on May 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Go to police now. this is a classic scam, craigslist even has a page devoted to them
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:00 PM on May 31, 2013 [9 favorites]

Yes, this is extremely fishy. There's a whole family of scams based on somebody sending you a check for extra money, although the details seem to vary a lot from one to another. (e.g., e.g.).
posted by hattifattener at 8:16 PM on May 31, 2013

To close the loop here: The money spent on those errands/tasks would likely wind up in the pockets of the scammers themselves; it's not just someone sending you a bad check and telling you to spend money for the sheer entertainment value.
posted by Andrhia at 8:27 PM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

In this specific scam, you deposit the check, then buy a bunch of stuff, send it to his 'away' address, or to 'business associates'. Then the check bounces and you're out the money. Meanwhile he sells the stuff.
posted by no1hatchling at 9:21 PM on May 31, 2013

I am a fulltime, online freelancer and I rarely take on CL jobs. CL jobs are 95% of the time a scam. Nobody pays up front for work you have not completed. Life does not work that way, especially for persons who just met.

Do not cash the check. Cease contact with the person. If he insists, start talking about going to the police. And get someone you know local to you to view the check and any emails. Do not throw the check away. Keep it for evidence or at least a copy of it. But again, do not attempt to cash it. Whatever contract you with this person is null.

On the off chance this guy is the one honest person out of say, the 150 billion scammers who have pulled this same trick or variant on Craigslist, then apologize profusely.....but still don't cash the check.

Chalk it up to Live & Learn. You may have dodged an expensive bullet by listening to your instincts and posting this question.
posted by lampshade at 9:36 PM on May 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

Since it's a cashier's check you can look up a contact number for the bank that issued it via the routing number. DO NOT USE THE PHONE NUMBER PRINTED ON THE CHECK.

You can tell them the routing number (a lot of banks use more than one) the check number and the amount and they can tell you if it's valid. It isn't but you can verify it that way.

Don't be surprised if the police don't do anything. The actual loss sustained by anyone in this scam is basically $0 and the perpetrators are likely outside of the U.S. You can go the police but don't expect much.
posted by VTX at 9:50 PM on May 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

The worst part about these is that there's a lag -- you can take it to your bank and they might say that it's real, and then you cash it and send him the money, and then a week or two later your bank finally gets the confirmation that it's actually fake and all that money is gone from your account. End of story. There is no doubt whatsoever that this is a scam.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:52 PM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

The scam is called "Cashier's Check Fraud."

I think I get points for answering the first question and naming the actual scam. The rest of you guys can split the points for answering to the question asking "what's really going on."
posted by Jurbano at 10:06 PM on May 31, 2013 [9 favorites]

Technically, you're a target, not a victim. Do try and stay that way.

In the unlikely event this is legit, and you don't cash the check, your "employer" is entirely undamaged financially and should work harder to avoid this confusion in the future.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:31 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yet another vote here for Well-Known Fraud. As everyone says, the plan is that you take that check to cash at your bank; you spend money on his so-called errands; then you either ship him merchandise you've bought or a money order for the rest. In the end, that check from him WILL bounce, and depending on your bank, you might be out the full $2500 or you might not, but HE will have disappeared with whatever merchandise or money you've sent. (And if he says something like he needs cash while he's "overseas for three weeks", then he can simply use an ATM and withdraw from his own bank account wherever he is.)

You've never even met this guy; emailing back and forth gives you no clue about his actual location --- it's very doubtful he's merely overseas for three weeks or that he lives your small mid-western city; it's almost guarenteed that he's lying about that, which will make it impossible to track him down when (NOT "if"!) that check bounces.

If you don't want to insult the guy --- if, for whatever reason, you still believe this is a VALID job offer (it isn't), then just email back to this guy something like you can't because you don't have a bank account or your bank refused it but won't say why.
posted by easily confused at 2:49 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

While this is certainly (well, 99% likely) a scam, it's not like money orders are an inherently invalid means of payment.

A reasonably safe way to use a money order is not to hand over any goods until you've cashed the money order at a place where you don't have an account -- a check cashing store, or the bank on which the money order is drawn. You might have to pay a small fee, but they won't cash it unless they've verified it (because they have no practical way to get the money back if it's no good).
posted by MattD at 4:25 AM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

What makes this scam work is that we all have the assumption that when a bank tells you a check has 'cleared' we all assume that has some meaning and that the funds have been located, verified and moved to our account. This is the problem. It was explained to me by a banker that people want fast access to their money so the bank tells you the check has cleared when it has done no such thing. This is an easy favor for the bank to do because they are not giving you the money they are just lending it in advance of real money. When the money never shows you are on the hook for it.
posted by InkaLomax at 4:26 AM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

And just to be clear, VTX is wrong. Real actual people sustain real actual losses because of this scam, all the time. The bank is under no obligation to pay for whatever you spend that money on, but if they do, that's them eating a loss too.
posted by kavasa at 5:02 AM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Did he say he was going to be in Nigeria for awhile? Where was the letter postmarked from?

People get jobs on Craigslist all of the time but with any job offer, you aren't going to have an interview by email if it is in your own city! I would be wary of any job where I never spoke or even met my boss.
posted by JJ86 at 5:07 AM on June 1, 2013

What InkaLomax said: when the money appears in your account, that's actually just the bank assuming that the cheque is good. It can take ages for the cheque to actually clear, or bounce.

Someone attempted this on a friend of mine in New Zealand with a slightly different set-up. Of course in NZ there's an even more obvious stink to it, because if someone sends you a cheque, the natural reaction is "WTF is this, the 19th century? Am I perhaps being scammed by some cad with a top hat and a twirly moustache?".
posted by pont at 12:30 PM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

And just to be clear, VTX is wrong. Real actual people sustain real actual losses because of this scam, all the time. The bank is under no obligation to pay for whatever you spend that money on, but if they do, that's them eating a loss too.

No, I'm not. Let me be clearer, no one in this specific instance of this scam have sustained any loss thus far.

Basically, the police won't really care unless they happen to be able to tie this instance of this scam to a larger case or, you follow the "employer's" instructions thereby losing your (or the bank's) money.
posted by VTX at 6:51 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

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