“It sounds ‘fishy,’ and we are both hesitant to cash the check that was received in the mail today.”
That statement was near the top of a letter we received recently from a consumer in the Bangor area. Her father-in-law had listed an item for sale on The Maine Marketplace. He had received an email from someone calling himself or herself Lemmy Curtis, expressing interest. What caught our writer’s eye was the writing style.
“I am so much interested in purchasing it, So I will really appreciate it if you can get back to me … Am awaiting your quick response so that we could proceed further …”
A return email gave the asking price and condition, and suggested a phone call for more information. The response: “… would’ve loved to call but I am an hearing impair.”
A follow-up email from our syntax-challenged would-be buyer asked for the seller’s name, address, landline and cellphone numbers and proposed a deal. The buyer would send a check for the asking price, plus “some excess funds meant for the shipping company,” plus $50 “for your compensation of the stress you may go through.”
There it was. The tipoff that this is one of an increasingly common type of rip off called the check overpayment scam. The Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, rates it the fifth most common telemarketing scam, and the fourth most common Internet scam reported. And the numbers are growing all the time.
Our volunteer caseworker who received the inquiry advised the writer that her suspicions were justified. Anytime someone asks to send you a check for more than the asking price of an item, you can bet on two things: the check you receive will be worthless, and you will be stuck for any money you send to the “buyer.”
The checks look real. These crooks use high-quality paper, so good it fools some well-trained bank employees who have been asked to deposit them; that done, the crooks ask you to wire them some money. Of course, when the check fails to clear, it’s the seller who is on the hook.
Legitimate buyers will never do this, and legitimate buy-and-sell sites discourage such lawbreaking. The Maine Marketplace urges people who believe they have been contacted by scammers to ignore them; you can’t get burned if you don’t respond. Uncle Henry’s has a list of hints on avoiding fraud, starting with an appeal to deal with people you can meet in person; offers to buy originating in other countries often mean scam.
Another sound piece of advice comes from the FTC website: There is no legitimate reason for someone who is giving you money to ask you to wire money back. Besides not passing the straight-face test, such a tactic is designed to have you lose your money to a criminal whom you cannot track.
The FTC asks consumers to report check overpayment scams to their state Attorney General, the National Fraud Information Center/Internet Fraud Watch, operated by the National Consumers League, at www.fraud.org,or by calling 800-876-7060 or directly to the FTC at www.ftc.gov or 877-FTC-HELP. There’s more advice on avoiding Internet fraud at OnGuardOnline.gov.
If you receive a phony check in the mail, postal inspectors would like to know. You can file a complaint electronically at postalinspectors.uspis.gov/forms/MailFraudComplaint.aspx, or you can print and mail the form if you prefer.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit necontact.wordpress.com or email email@example.com.