Avoiding an Internet Scam
June 20, 2007 9:06 PM   Subscribe

I am pretty sure I am caught up in an Internet scam, and I want to know the best way to proceed to make sure I cover all my bases.

A couple of weeks ago my girlfriend posted a loom for sale on the local Craigslist (this is a small midwestern town). A guy from Canada wrote back and said he was interested. Some emails went back and forth and, as it happens, he said he'd have a check in the mail for $1000 and that he'd have a shipper come pick up the loom.

About a week passes and he finally gets the check in the mail, but adds the addendum that he's going to include the costs for the shipper. A few more days pass and a check arrives, for $3600 dollars. At this time I get involved, because this is a large sum of money (more than triple the asking value). It's possible it'd cost $2600 to ship a loom to Canada, but it felt weird so I looked into it some more.

I go through and read the email thread between this guy and my girlfriend and I discover the guy writes like a classic Nigerian scammer. The same weird mispellings, odd grammar, and over politeness. I notice the check was shipped from California, has a return address in Alabama, and is issued by a company (FX Universal, LLC) based out of NYC. Remember, this guy is in Canada (but has a yahoo.co.uk email address!).

I Googled for "FX Universal scam" and found plenty of reviews of FX Universal itself, and apparently the services they sell are not too highly looked upon (the word "scam" is used quite a few times). So, I'm 99% sure this is not legit. However, I've had some conflicting advice on what to do next.

I originally thought to just rip up the check and forget the incident, but people are telling me I need to take it to the bank and have it "officially voided", whatever that means. Or, even, as some have suggested to take it to the police. Most people I ask (friends, family) think I need to have some record of voiding the check (i.e. turning it over to the police, voiding at a bank, etc). I'm not sure, having never had to worry about this kind of thing before.

What should I do? I don't want to cash the check, everything about this smells wrong, so is there something special I need to do to put a stop to this? Since I've had conflicting advice, I thought maybe MeFi could set the record straight.

P.S. It's possible this guy is on the up and up and I'm just paranoid, but we'll sell this loom regardless and don't need to take a risk. As craiglist suggests, we'll deal locally next time.
posted by mto to Work & Money (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: There's a con (I don't recall if it has an actual name) where the scammer sends you a check with additional funds, requesting that you send him the cash left over - that thousand some dollars in your case. You send him the cash, but the check hasn't officially cleared yet. By the time your money is out the door, the check bounces, and you just lost the loom, the shipping cost, and the extra money.

So, I don't know if this is a scam, but as long as you wait for the check to clear and/or don't send him money, you should be safe.
posted by niles at 9:13 PM on June 20, 2007

Best answer: Cashing the check may not be the best idea.
posted by zamboni at 9:18 PM on June 20, 2007

Yes, that's most likely scam, and if he asks you to send him the remainder it's definitely a scam, and you're really better off not cashing the cheque at all, and simply writing back saying "Hey, I'm not comfortable about this, send me a postal money order for $EXACT_AMOUNT, I'll deposit it, and once my bank says it's clear, I'll ship the loom out to you".

When it comes to craigslist, you should only deal with cash-in-hand locally.
posted by cmonkey at 9:20 PM on June 20, 2007

This is a total con, exactly how niles describes it. Rip up the check.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:20 PM on June 20, 2007

What will happen is you will cash the check, send the extra money to somebody else at the buyer's request, the check will wind its way through the clearing system where it will ultimately bounce, and you will be left holding the bag for the money that you have already sent out. It is a classic scam.

I'd suggest not proceeding any further than you already have. Offer to return the check (make a copy for yourself), and be done with the whole mess.
posted by indyz at 9:21 PM on June 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

You said that he is sending the shipper? Why is he paying you the money for shipping if he is organising it?

Sounds weird, you have no reason to risk anything so I would wait for the next buyer.
posted by puddpunk at 9:21 PM on June 20, 2007

What niles says is correct, but it is possible for a check to come back well after the funds have been released by your bank, and you would still be liable for the money. And it's quite possible that the "shipper" is the guy himself, or someone in cahoots with him.

The bottom line is that you feel uncomfortable about the deal, and rightly so. Even if he is on the up-and-up, there's enough fishiness going on that you have every reason to be suspicious. If I were you, I would either just kill the deal immediately, or send the check back to the guy and demand a cashier's check instead.
posted by cerebus19 at 9:23 PM on June 20, 2007

Best answer: Dear God, do not, by any circumstances, cash or deposit that check. It is, without a doubt, fraudulent. It doesn't matter if you wait for it to clear or not, when the fraud is discovered, it will bounce and your bank, and possibly FX Universal, will come after you.

This is common scam on Craigslist, particularly among high-priced items. This person has no intention of buying your item.

In terms of getting rid of the check, bring it to the police if you feel like it. But simply ripping it up will not bring any undue negative attention to you. It's a fake check.
posted by chichimimizu at 9:27 PM on June 20, 2007

While cerebus19 is mostly right, you don't want to ask for a cashier's check--these are the ones most often used by the scammers, as the bank is required to release the funds within a certain amount of time, even if it hasn't really cleared. Then a couple of weeks later it's gone through the system and they discover it's a fake.
posted by lackutrol at 9:27 PM on June 20, 2007

Best answer: Sidenote: even if the bank says it has cleared, it can just as quickly "unclear." And your account will be debited for the amount.
posted by The Deej at 9:30 PM on June 20, 2007

Best answer: This scam works because a lot of people misunderstand what it means to have a check "clear". They often believe that the waiting period for funds to be available is also the time that the check is being authenticated. But your bank will make the funds available to you in 2-5 days no matter how long it takes them to verify the check. And then when the check turns out to be a fraud, the victims have already lost the money that they sent on for shipping, expenses, etc.

I suppose it wouldn't hurt to file a complaint with the FBI. Here's their website devoted to internet crime.
posted by saffry at 9:42 PM on June 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

When would you need a record of not cashing the check? Only if scam-boy decided to come after you and claim you cashed it and you owe him. Conceivable, but not ruddy likely. Having the check still in hand, undeposited, would be a pretty good refutation of that claim, unless it's a bogus check drawn on his real account, 'cause then he's gonna claim that you forged it, and you already forged another one like it, and that one you cashed. Doubly unlikely. I'd bet dollars to donuts, if the check's drawn on a real account at all, the account isn't his. So no worries there.

But on much stronger grounds, that check is probably a lot more useful to los G-men del FBI intact than ripped up.
posted by eritain at 9:53 PM on June 20, 2007

Best answer: I work in the fraud dept at a large bank. This is a ridiculously common scam. Please do not take the check into your bank, not even to see if they will verify/void it for you. I've seen so many situations where some clueless teller will tell the customer to just deposit it to their account and see what happens. Well, what happens is: the check bounces a few days/weeks after you deposit it. Even if you haven't used any of the funds, there's a pretty big chance your bank will flag your account as a risk for depositing counterfeit items, and just close it and not allow you to do business with them anymore. You can feel free to just rip up the check, really.

or send the check back to the guy and demand a cashier's check instead

it's just easy to create counterfeit cashier's checks, and it usually takes the bank even longer to be notified if they're fraudulent than regular checks.
posted by logic vs love at 9:58 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Shred the check, no one is coming to pick up the loom. It's a scam where you're supposed to mail him back the difference within the 2-3 weeks it takes your bank to discover the check is bad.

Shred the check and move on.
posted by mathowie at 10:05 PM on June 20, 2007

And it's quite possible that the "shipper" is the guy himself, or someone in cahoots with him.

It's 100% guaranteed this is the case.
posted by fshgrl at 10:18 PM on June 20, 2007

Call you local police and ask if they have a fraud department. Talk to someone there about this, to see if there's any way the check or your contact with the guy could be useful -- maybe there are open investigations of other CLers in your area similarly scammed. They may just tell you to shred it. (If they don't sound familiar with the scam, or if they dismiss your concern that it could be a scam, then ignore them - it's pretty much guaranteed to be a scam.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:32 PM on June 20, 2007

Had a similar experience on Craigslist and it turned out to be a scam. I played around with the guy for a bit from a separate email account, because it seems they cannot keep track of their scams and made them send me silly pictures holding signs of things I told them to write.
posted by perpetualstroll at 10:42 PM on June 20, 2007

Best answer: This is called the check overpayment scam or con. It's a variant of advance fee fraud (the Nigerian specialty).

Absolutely involve law enforcement. At least, I would, and ideally I would go the extra mile and contact the law in the other places the check seems to have a physical connection. Chances are, the cops there will be very interested -- maybe already investigating. Even if they aren't, and they don't, at least you gave them a heads-up and they can come back to you in a year or so when they finally bring the guy in.

If you want, try perpetualstroll's idea -- that way you might get photos of the people involved. Keep in mind that the way this works is they use their victims as tools to help them victimize others.

I'm sorely disappointed that logic vs love says not to bring it to your bank. That may be true in general. I know that the local banks and cops here periodically put out press releases about scams and are particularly protective of older people.
posted by dhartung at 1:49 AM on June 21, 2007

Best answer: I've seen so many situations where some clueless teller will tell the customer to just deposit it to their account and see what happens. Well, what happens is: the check bounces a few days/weeks after you deposit it.

I had a client who was arrested and charged with forgery for taking a check an internet scammer sent her, to a Bank of America branch to see if it was good (the check was a Bank of America check). When the check was revealed to be drawn on an account that was flagged for forgeries, the police were called. We got the case dismissed against my client after I persuaded the prosecutor that my client was the victim, not the perpetrator, but it wasn't pleasant for her to go through that.
posted by jayder at 4:58 AM on June 21, 2007

In point of fact, the first email she got from this guy probably came through craigslist, and it had a warning at the top about this exact sort of scam.

Yes, it's a scam, just tear up the check and be done with it.
posted by KirTakat at 6:16 AM on June 21, 2007


Take the phony check (and it is a phony check) directly to the cops.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:09 AM on June 21, 2007

Best answer: Thank you everyone for your responses! For future readers here are the actions I took:

1) Printed out all the emails
2) Printed out the UPS tracking information
3) Took envelope, print outs, and the check to the police
4) They took our statement and turned the info over to the FBI
5) Made copy of the check (and print outs) for my records
6) Burned the check
7) Informed craigslist
8) Ceased all communication w/ the scammer

The police said we'll likely not hear anything, but record of the incident may help establish a pattern of these crimes in the area (esp. since the scammer was willing to send a shipper).

The police also confirmed that having a check "clear" does not mean everything is good to go, and that this is a really common part of the scam. Indeed, even though I suspected it was a scam I didn't understand how the scam worked until I learned that having a check "clear" doesn't mean the check is good (an amazingly common misconception, even amongst relatively smart people).

Thank you ask.mefi!
posted by mto at 12:00 PM on June 21, 2007 [3 favorites]

Had nearly the same thing happen to me with ebay! Guy wins, sends me a "paypal" (it was a forgery) payment for an extra $100 to pay for shipping to Nigeria. This guy was good. Fake paypal emails, fake ebay emails. I nearly pulled my hair out. But it was all a scam from the get-go.
posted by CwgrlUp at 4:13 PM on June 21, 2007

By the way, I had some guy attempt to do this to me when I was selling a Motorola Q I got in a raffle. I was kind of disappointed in the way the auction was going, then in the last few minutes the price went to over $500. I was overjoyed for about a half-second, then realized it had to be a scam. Then I got the weirdly-phrased email from Nigeria.

For some convoluted reason I was to send the thing to some African country where the Verizon CDMA phone couldn't possibly work. When I pointed this out to the scammer, he got very angry, but strangely, he was calm when I said I couldn't possibly ship it overseas.

I ended up getting a good deal on craigslist; the 2nd highest eBay bidder thought I was in on the scam.
posted by lackutrol at 11:04 PM on June 26, 2007

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