Willingly Robbed: Modern Payment Scams (Part 1 of 2)

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You check your email one day and see you have a job offer. You already have a job, but the offer is one that would allow you to pick up a little extra money in your spare time. And the job itself sounds fun—secret shopping. All you need is a bank account. You respond to the email and get a friendly message back welcoming you to the program. You’re told your first assignment will be for a money wiring service. You are told that you will receive a cashier’s check for $4,000. You are to deposit it into your bank account and then wire $3,500 of that money back to the secret shopping service using a local Western Union outlet. The remaining $500 is yours to keep. You are also given a form to fill out about your experience. This is likely the easiest $500 you will ever make.

You follow the instructions you are given and everything works just as you expect, until one day you get a call from your bank telling you that the $4,000 cashier’s check was returned as fraudulent and you are out not only the $4000 for the check that was no good, but also the $3,500 in real money that you wired out. You are now $7,500 in the hole.

Unfortunately, this happens more than you might think. And it’s not just fake secret shopping jobs. Fraudsters have come up with a number of ways to get you to willingly send them money. Here are just a few of them:

Overpayment Scam

You are selling a vehicle on eBay or Craigslist when you get an immediate offer to buy at the asking price. Of course that is great news. The only catch is that the buyer is in West Africa and wants to have the vehicle shipped to him after the sale is final, though he offers to cover all shipping costs. He also has a favor to ask. He owes a little money to someone in the U.S., so wants to send you a cashier’s check for the full amount of the vehicle and shipping, plus $3,000 extra that he wants you to then wire to his friend. In fact he may even offer you an extra few hundred dollars for your trouble. You get the check and deposit it into your checking account and then dutifully wire off the $3,000. But you never hear back from the buyer about shipping the vehicle, and within a week or so you are notified the check you received is fraudulent. Again, your losses are the amount of the check you received plus the amount you wired out.

Fake Lottery Scam

There are variations of this scam but I’ll focus on one of them for now. The other is very similar to the scam we will talk about next. This version of the lottery scam is very similar to the two scams above. You are notified that you have won a lottery, usually in a foreign country (commonly Canada or Ireland). You are sent a cashier’s check for the full amount of your winnings, but are requested to wire a portion of the money to cover taxes, processing or another cost. Again, you deposit the check and wire the money, and later the cashier’s check is returned as fraudulent and you are out a bunch of money.

Nigerian Scam (also called an Advance Fee or 419 Scam)

This is an older scam that anyone with an email account should be familiar with now. It generally starts with an email from someone overseas involving the death of someone who had a lot of money. The family needs to get the money into the U.S. and wants your assistance. For your help, you will be given a portion of the funds amounting to millions of dollars. But once you agree, problems arise. Taxes need to be paid. Bribes to bureaucrats must be made. Over and over you are told you need to pay additional money to help secure the transfer of the funds. Several years ago on the NBC program Dateline, Correspondent Chris Hansen tracked down scammers who conned a Connecticut woman out of more than $200,000, and were still trying to get more.

There is also a variation of this scam where you are told you have won a foreign lottery (that you never entered) and have won millions of dollars, but again there is a never-ending series of fees and taxes that you are asked to pay. And of course, in neither version of the scam do you ever actually see any of the promised funds.

The “Help! I’m trapped in London” Scam

Social media is great for giving you quick access to all of your friends in one convenient place. However, if a criminal is able to hack into your account, it is also gives them quick access to your friends in one convenient place. This allows them to pretend to be you and victimize your friends. Of course that also works the other way—your friends’ accounts can be hacked and used to victimize you. Here is one popular way crooks take advantage of hacked accounts social media and email accounts:

You log in to Facebook one day, or maybe check your email, and you notice a note from a friend. Not just any note, but an urgent request. While visiting London, they were mugged and lost their wallet containing all of their cash and credit cards. Now they are stuck and need your help. They are flying back in the morning, but need $890 pay their hotel bill before they leave.

Of course you want to be a good friend and do the right thing. Plus they are good for the money and can pay you back when they get home. So you log on to a money wiring service and send the funds to them. Happy to have been able to help a friend in need, you go on with your day. Later you realize your friend was never out of the country and you have been tricked. Sometimes this scam is done using chat instead. Click here to see a transcript of a chat a scammer had with an alert Facebook user.

There are plenty of tricks that fraudsters use online to con innocent people out of their hard-earned money, so the thought of even checking your email may be scary. Fortunately, there are a few key notes to keep in mind that can protect you from a myriad of tricks.

Read Part 2 of 2

Tim Grove, vice president of systems development, has been with EECU Credit Union’s information technology team since 1999, and is responsible for the programming and development of EECU’s website as well as all online and mobile services. Tim holds an undergrad degree in marketing from Oklahoma Christian University as well as an MBA from the University of Texas at Arlington, and has served marketing and IT teams at companies including Canon, EDS and Halliburton.

2 thoughts on “Willingly Robbed: Modern Payment Scams (Part 1 of 2)

  1. Thank you for the information.PLease keep us informed of any new scams as they become available to you. It appears that this behavior is rapidly getting worse.

    S. Bullock

  2. Thanks a lot Tim!

    Your examples should be a permanent part of the front page for EECU’s home page. Continuously reminding customers and others of the dangers regarding financial scams is an important public service today!

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