I am grateful that I did not fall for this, and in fact I cannot determine how the scam is supposed to have worked, but my suspicions were up immediately when I received an odd e-mail related to a painting I recently sold on eBay.
Within 24 hours someone used the “Buy It Now” button to purchase one of my oil paintings for $350. I was delighted! Excited!
And then I saw that the buyer’s eBay name was folly_001 with a feedback rating of (0), and the info “Member since: Jun-22-06″ — that was the day before I posted the item.
Still, I considered that the person saw my art somewhere and decided to get a new account for the first time so that they could buy one of my fantastic pieces. (My ego sometimes keeps things out of sharp focus).
So, anyway, today I got the following e-mail from john steph <firstname.lastname@example.org> which says:
I will like to inform you my intrest in ur item and i will like to pay you through MONEY ORDER,i will pay US $360.10 for this item i will pay you an excess money and i want you to deduct your item money and shipping fees from it and send back the remaining amount to my customer via western union ..I want a quick response from you because i am really in need of the item urgently.Also i want the item posted out immidiately you get the Money Order and also make sure you get back to me as soon as possible with your name and address so the money order could be mailed out Will be expecting your name and address so i can mail the money order out as fast as possible….Include your e-mail address….
Now, does that look a little weird to you? Sounds like a foreign scam, doesn’t it? Like one of those Nigerian scams…
First red flag: “ur item” doesn’t seem appropriate for “beautiful painting I just had to have so I bought it with Buy It Now.”
Next red flag: Money Order. I know those can be faked, and many people have been duped.
Next red flag: I will pay you excess money. Why? I think this is where the scam is. I am supposed to see that he paid me too much and send him—out of my checking account or something—whatever was overpaid. When it turns out the Money Order is fake, it’s too late: I have already mailed the artwork (“ur item“) and some money. I’m supposed to think that a Money Order is as good as cash, so before waiting to find out from my bank if it’s real, I just send the item and a check for the overpayment.
Next red flag: Western Union. I have already heard of the Western Union scams
Anyway, I went directly to eBay’s Live Help Chat window and began immediately typing my “story” knowing I had about 8 minutes to wait for an assistant. That speeds things up. Below is my conversation:
While waiting for your chat to begin, you can start typing in your question. To help us address your questions as quickly as possible, please include your email address, eBay User ID and any other pertinent information such as item numbers, error messages, etc. (if available). We may also require your name, address and phone number for verification purposes.
Your entries will become visible to the agent once they have joined the chat. Thank you for your patience.
thirtyin30: I received the following e-mail in response to my invoice, and it smells fishy to me:
thirtyin30: Dear Seller,
I will like to inform you my intrest in ur item and i will like to pay you through MONEY ORDER,i will pay US $360.10 for this item i will pay you an excess money and i want you to deduct your item money and shipping fees from it and send back the remaining amount to my customer via western union ..I want a quick response from you because i am really in need of the item urgently.Also i want the item posted out immidiately you get the Money Order and also make sure you get back to me as soon as possible with your name and address so the money order could be mailed out Will be expecting your name and address so i can mail the money order out as fast as possible….Include your e-mail address….”
thirtyin30: That’s the whole e-mail, and it is from a buyer with “0″ feedback
thirtyin30: re: item number 120001078892
thirtyin30: buyer: folly_001
Your chat session has started…
thirtyin30: Just received another, while waiting: “I will like to inform you my intrest in ur item and i will like to pay you through MONEY ORDER,i will pay US $350.00 for this item i will pay you an excess money and i want you to deduct your item money and shipping fees from it and send back the remaining amount to my customer via western union ..I want a quick response from you because i am really in need of the item urgently.Also i want the item posted out immidiately you get the Money Order and also make sure you get back to me as soon as possible with your name and address so the money order could be mailed out Will be expecting your name and address so i can mail the money order out as fast as possible….Include your e-mail address….”
Melody B.: Hello, welcome to eBay General Support Live Chat! … … Please allow me a moment to review your question.
“his” address:john folly
320 zenith dr (fake, see below)
el paso, TX 79912
Melody B.: Let me check on this a moment please.
thirtyin30: A Google Maps search renders no such address: Click here to see Google results
Melody B.: This total email does not sound good to me in any way.
thirtyin30: Well, I agree, it is bad english, and it smells like a scam, but I can’t figure out how a scam would be pulled off, unless it’s some kind of “send it and you’ll get your money” scam.
Melody B.: Yes I keep reading this over myself, I smell something just not right with this.
thirtyin30: Well, how do I handle it properly?
Melody B.: I would try to contact this buyer by phone is what I would do, get his accurate address from us as well — call them and just find out why he is sending you excess money.
thirtyin30: I already asked that, and received a follow-up of the second e-mail I posted above.
Melody B.: Hmm… did you get the contact information from our system, including a phone number?
thirtyin30: No, I do not know how to do that. Link please?
Melody B.: I will explain!
Melody B.: You can request the phone number of a transaction partner by clicking the link near the top-right corner of most eBay pages labeled ‘Advanced Search’. Then, on the advanced search page, there is a box on the far left side with several links. Click the ‘Find Contact Information‘ link, and then please follow the instructions provided. Here is a quick link as well for you! http://search.ebay.com/_W0QQtZvbQQsofindtypeZ9
Melody B.: Also when this buyer received his “item won” email from the purchase of this item, your address would be there on it when he clicks on the Pay Now to indicate that he is paying a certain method.
thirtyin30: He apparently received the “item won” e-mails, as he copied it to me with the second e-mail.
Melody B.: Yes, so when he clicks on “pay now” then he would have your address and name to “send” the money too.
User ID: folly_001
Name: john folly
City: el paso
Country: United States
Phone: (348) 937-2761 (no such area code, or phone number)
Registered Since: Thursday, Jun 22, 2006 01:31:38 PST
thirtyin30: The name “Folly” almost sounds too fake to be good…
Melody B.: Yes, please try calling this person and seeing if he even exists..
Melody B.: also if you get a money order, it must clear before you will ship. and only send for the amount you request that you will not send balances back.
thirtyin30: Very well.
Melody B.: Be very suspicious and delay as long as you can — making sure this buyer remains active on the site and doesn’t turn into a “no longer a registered user”…
thirtyin30: According to Google SMS: Sorry, ‘area code: 348′ did not return any results, nor did the phone number.
What do you mean ‘delay as long as possible’?
Melody B.: So the information that they have listed is incorrect, okay then you will want to file a report on this person to our Trust and Safety department.
Melody B.: May I provide this link for you to contact them?
thirtyin30: yes please
thirtyin30: And what do I do about the selling fees? I put up about $25 to post the auction…
Melody B.: Here is the link to write in to Trust and Safety, they will also advise you on whether you should complete this sale.
Once you get to this page, you will want to go to the “email us” link that is there and write in regarding this situation. Also, If you need to contact us again, you can email us by clicking on ‘Contact Us’ from the left side of all eBay help pages.
thirtyin30: Will I be refunded all the fees?
Melody B.: If you end up filing an unpaid item dispute for this, your final value fees will be credited and you will then qualify for the free re-list.
thirtyin30: My livelihood depends on my selling my paintings daily. I cannot wait a long time for this to process. I need to get hte item back on eBay immediately.
Melody B.: Yes I understand.
thirtyin30: In other words, there is no way to expedite it, even though the phone number is fake and so is the address?
Melody B.: If you feel that this information is not correct and that this item will not be paid for — you cannot escalate this, however you may wish to re-list this. However you may wish to hear back from our Trust and Safety department in order for them to advise you on this for certain.
You will not be able to file a dispute for 10 days after this auction ends.
Melody B.: So this is really a choice you need to make, I would certainly try to locate a number for that address and exhaust my options.
So far the fellow has followed through. Yesterday I received $1500 in counterfeit American Express Traveler’s Cheques [Picture].
At first I was fooled… I thought I had received an anonymous gift from a foreigner. I was baffled. There was no return address, my own address was written very big on the front of a #10 envelope, the Benin, Western Africa stamp and cancellation were in the lower right corner [Picture] and there was absolutely nothing in the envelope except three cheques and the blank, white paper folded around them.
Then I remembered that I before I left on vacation a week ago, I had received another e-mail from this “John Steph” fellow telling me he has sent the money. He reiterated that he would be over-paying and that I should cash them the same day and send him the balance.
With that thought in mind, the cheques “began to look fake.” I could see that the Serial Numbers were “rough around the edges” [Picture], same with the “routing number” [Picture]. This I could see with the naked eye. By comparison to a real routing number [Picture], or the real serialization (check numbers) from my own checkbook [Picture], something just wasn’t right.
My wife and I took them into my bank and asked a teller if he could tell by looking at them if they were real or not. He glanced at them and shook his head no.
“You can’t tell by looking at them?” I asked.
“No. I’m saying these are no good. They are fake. And they are too small to be real.”
I was very impressed at how instantly he knew they were fake.
The teller got out a real American Express Travelers Cheque to show us. The print was indeed noticeably cleaner, crisper—even though the fakes were pretty clean themselves. Then he laid the fake check on top of the real one. There was a difference in size of less than 1/16″ all the way around—which I am sure I never would have caught, but which he saw at a glance, without even having a real one present to compare to. He was just proving it at this point.
So we collected the checks and went home. Nothing lost.
I scanned them at high-rez and noted a few other things. The plates that the forgers are using (if they are plates at all) are nowhere near the engraved quality of minting plates. Take a look at this image of the counterfeit $500. Not only are the edges of the largest letter broken up into dots, instead of being crisp, sharp lines, but also look at the lines of the long oval and the text inside it—those should be flat and crisp, not made out of dots. Even though your naked eye might not see this at first, your mind will perceive the “softness” created by the imperfect printing.
So currently I am stringing this fellow along, trying to allow time for authorities with FDIC, FBI, Yahoo and others to get involved and track this guy down if they can. I don’t know what they can do with a forger and scammer in West Africa, but with a little more time, they may be able to get somewhere.