Sunday, November 15, 2009

Scams and the Holidays

Thanksgiving is just over a week away, and it is time to start thinking about the Holiday Season. We at Scam Victims United usually see an increase in the number of scam victims during this time of year. Many people are looking for a way to make some extra money to pay for the gifts that they want to give to family and friends, so they may sell something they own at an online classified ad site, like Craigslist, or they may look for an extra part-time job. It is because of this need for the extra money to get through the Holidays that some people may let their guard down and become more vulnerable to online scams.

Common online scams include the overpayment scams, in the form of counterfeit cashier's checks and money orders, or work at home job offers such as the Secret Shopper Scam. Let's review the signs of both.

Counterfeit Cashier's check or Money Order Scam
You are selling an item over the Internet - it could be a used car or motorcycle, jewelry or even bred animals. You receive an email offer to purchase your item and the buyer says he'll send a bank cashier's check. The buyer is from Nigeria or "West Africa", but has a business associate in the United States who will send you the cashier's check. Then you are told that for some reason the check was already made out to you for an amount larger than your asking price. The buyer asks you to please deposit the check, wait for it to clear, and then send him the difference -- "but only after the cashier's check clears, of course."

You are skeptical - but, sure enough, the bank cashier's check arrives by Fed Ex, it looks real, your bank accepts the check, and the bank assures you the funds are in fact available. So you wait the time the bank recommends to verify that the check is clear and then you wire the difference to your buyer in Nigeria and prepare to ship your item.

A week later your bank calls: "We're very sorry, but the cashier's check was counterfeit" -- a superb copy, but worthless. Your account is frozen. You must pay the bank back the entire amount of the cashier's check. You may even be considered a fraud suspect yourself.

Secret Shopper Scam
The scammer will either place an ad in a legitimate classified listing, online or in print, or they will collect their victim’s names and email addresses off of resumes posted online. Some of them are even making “copy cat” websites of legitimate Secret Shopper companies to use in their scam to help convince the victim that this is all legitimate. For a listing of legitimate Secret Shopper companies, go to

The victim will be told that they have been hired as a Secret Shopper and will be sent a cashier’s check or money order to cash and use on their assignments. One of the assignments is to review the service at a Western Union or Money Gram location. They are given a name and address to wire money to, from the check that was sent to them, and told to fill out an evaluation form on the service received and email or fax that back to the company they are working for.

Everything seems fine, and some victims may even complete a few “assignments” before the check is discovered to be counterfeit. On average, it takes about 10 business days for the bank to realize that the check is counterfeit, but we have seen some cases where it has taken over 6 months. Once the bank dose find that the check is counterfeit, they will contact you demanding the return of the money and deduct the full amount of the check from your bank account. This sometimes leaves the victims with negative bank accounts.

For more information on the check clearing process and the banking terms, please read

Shawn Mosch
Co-Founder of
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