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Probably the best of the old sayings that applies here is "Trust everyone--but always cut the cards."
The latest internet sales scam is one you really have to deal with yourself -- because no one else out there is going to give you any help or information.
It's happened twice to me in the past six months, so I thought I would pass it on to anyone who cares to read this page.
I received an e-mail from a customer I had never heard of before; the e-mail originated in Nigeria. The customer asked about purchasing a fairly expensive piece of equipment ($2,000 range). When I replied that I had the item available, and quoted him the price + shipping, he agreed to buy it.
He indicated he had a client who owed him some $5,000; he would instruct the client to send me a bank check for the full $5,000; I was to ship the camera, deduct the price from the $5,000, and remit the balance to him by Western Union Moneygram.
The check duly arrived, delivered by FedEx; it was a bank check, as promised, drawn on a bank in Luxembourg and payable through Chase Manhatten Bank in Syracuse, NY. Cool!
Would you send $5,000 to a perfect stranger and expect him to return both merchandise and cash? Surely you jest! It was a scam; I just didn't figure out right away how it would work. After a conversation with my contacts at the bank, it became clear -- the check might actually clear in three or four days -- but it might take six weeks to determine whether or not the check itself was counterfeit. By that time, the merchandise and the cash would have been shipped, and I would be screwed.
My next stop was the U.S. Secret Service, who agreed the check was probably counterfeit, but were basically useless. I sent them the check, for investigation. They were supposed to get back to me to verify, and were then supposed to return the check. Agent Derek Dunn, at the New Haven, CT office, has never gotten back to me, and does not return any of my phone calls. So much for helping the businessman.
In March, 2003, the situation repeated itself -- different customer, but still from Nigeria. Different merchandise, but the same story, a check delivered by FedEx, and drawn on the same bank, same account as the previous one.
I tried calling Chase Manhatten bank for information on the check or on the account -- and told them my suspicions. They acted like I was the thief, and refused to give me any guidance or useful information. If I had any accounts with them, I would have closed them instantly. Oh, they did tell me that if the check were counterfeit, that would be determined as soon as it was presented to the clearing house. Quite a change in procedure from several months previously?!
Needless to say, ten days later the check was returned to me, but not before the "customer" called me no fewer than eight times, pleading for some "interim" cash to meet personal and family crises while the check cleared.
I still think my first surmise was accurate -- the check could have cleared, but several weeks later been determined to be counterfeit. By then, any dealer salivating over such a nice sale would have shipped the merchandise and the cash, and had no recourse.
The moral? Or warning? always look a gift horse in the mouth.
Most recently (October, 2004), counterfeit cashier's checks have been issued bearing the imprint of the First Community Credit Union in the St. Louis, Mo. area.
The one we received was allegedly drawn on the branch in Ellisville, Mo.
One give-away? there is a line of type at the top of the check that has the word "security" at the beginnning and at the end. First it is spelled "securtiy", and on the other end, "secuirty". The dozen+ checks that have been uncovered in the past couple of weeks are, according to the credit union, sequentially numbered.