If you ever try to sell something on Craigslist or eBay, here’s a word to the unwise. I’ve used both of those platforms in the past with some success, so this isn’t a knock on them. It’s about the despicable scammers who prey on innocent and gullible folks peddling their wares on Internet marketplaces.
A recent Wall Street Journal story reported on a study that found social-media platforms to be an even more lucrative hunting ground for crooks that work robocall frauds. Almost half of respondents who encountered scammers when selling items on direct seller-to-buyer sites like Craigslist and eBay lost money. (Of course, far more don’t encounter scammers.)
To its credit, Craigslist posts a warning to its sellers to be wary of distant buyers responding to their ads who might pay with a counterfeit check that would initially clear the bank but will later be clawed back from the seller who deposited it when the fraud is discovered. Case in point, here’s my recent experience. After redecorating I had to part with an elegant bar and buffet featuring lighted glass shelves and doors to display glassware, china and accessories. So, I offered it on Craigslist at the bargain price of $295. Almost instantly, I got a text message from an enthusiastic buyer who wanted it at full price from the picture I posted. He gave his name as Peter A. Frederick and said he was an out of town construction consultant and needed it shipped to him. I wanted payment in cash and preferred a buyer who would pick it up himself. He persisted and proposed the following arrangement. He’d send me a certified check for $1,950.50. When I get it, I should deposit it in my bank and after the check clears, I should deduct $295 for the buffet plus an extra $50 for my “running around” and send the excess funds of $1,605 to his shipper. After the shipper gets my check, he’ll contact me with shipping instructions.
Doing the math: $1,950.50 – $295.00 – $50.00 – $1,605.00 = $0.50, I discovered there was an extra 50 cents left over for me! I was tempted, but realized it wouldn’t be ethical to cheat him out of that for his inadvertent math mistake. Just kidding. Of course, by now I was sure it was a scam. But I figured I’d play along out of curiosity. He already had my name and address, and a few days later I got his check.
It came in a USPS Priority Mail envelope (which cost him $6.95). The return address read as Paul Jackson (in the text message he started out as Peter A. Frederick) with a street address in Riverside, California. I checked out the address on line and it wasn’t a residence but rather that of the Post Office it was mailed from. The check, which wasn’t certified, was for $1,950.50 and drawn on the account of a women’s health care clinic in Ohio from a bank there. I called the clinic and they recognized the situation instantly, explaining that the check was, indeed, counterfeit and that there have been tens of thousands of dollars in phony checks using their account in similar scams. I also called my scammer’s cell number on his text message but, as expected, got no answer.
Had I been suckered by this, my bank would have charged me back for the counterfeit check after it bounced, no one would have come to pick up my furniture piece (he didn’t really want that) and I’d have been stuck for the $1,605 check I sent to his “shipper.” At least the scammer was out $6.95 for postage; call that poetic justice. He’ll probably write it off as a business expense.
Now, here’s an ironic postscript. Since Peter/Paul the scammer had my name and text address, he must have added me to his sucker list as I also got this text during the process: “Hi Michael Rosen, I’m Aaron Scott from the crime investigative department. There is an urgent arrest warrant against you right now. We received an information about a recent fraudulent paycheck which you were investigated to be part of. You are being monitored and it’s very important that I do hear from you as soon as possible before we proceed further with our legal actions.”
My response: “There’s no such thing as the *$@&#! crime investigation department. You’re the one who should be investigated.”
If someone would like my bar/buffet, it’s still on Craigslist; cash only please.
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.