opinion

Stopping a Scammer

Stephen Yagielowicz
They say there’s a sucker born every minute, and while that may be true, you don’t want it to be you – so today I’m going to tell you a story about a scammer that set his sights on me this week – a story that will hopefully be a good example for you.

Like a lot of pack rats, I tend to collect things – all sorts of things – things that I’m trying to minimize wherever possible in an effort to reduce the unproductive clutter in my life…

Much of this unwanted material can be characterized as “toys I no longer play with” – a very broad category that includes everything from websites I’ve closed or that I am in the process of closing; to my gold mine; and to some of the vehicles I own, and beyond.

As part of this process, I signed up for an account at craigslist.com over the weekend and placed an ad for my mighty Mopar, with the hopes of finding a good home for this classic 1970 muscle car.

While craigslist is very good about warning users not to engage in transactions that can involve fraudulent “certified checks or money orders” or shipping of items, and advises users to stick to local transactions, I was willing to use a little careful leeway on this, due to the nature of the sale. After all, I bought the car on eBay in 2002, even though it was three states and a pretty long drive away – these cars are increasingly few and far between.

I would have put it on eBay, but craigslist is free and I was curious as to the response I would get, having never used – or even visited – the site before. Although it was midnight when the ad went live, I had three responses when I checked my email the following morning.

One of the replies was from an eager fellow in New Jersey who wanted to purchase the vehicle right away. “Cool, that was easy,” I thought to myself.

While I had specified that this was to be a cash-only transaction, I realized the distance between us and the time of year would make a bank draft and a transport truck at least reasonable if not the most ideal way to proceed.

Still, I was cautious, as even though “certified” checks are supposed to be just that, “certified,” my bank informed me that counterfeits were indeed a problem and that even though the check may initially clear, they could come back to retrieve the funds several weeks after the fact, in the event there was a problem.

This made me uncomfortable, but countless legitimate transactions have occurred this way, so I tried to think positively about the deal, and instructed the buyer to send me a check for the actual dollar amount. He was to arrange and pay for shipping.

Then the big red flag went up.

I received an email from him stating that he had mailed a certified check to me to cover not only the cost of the vehicle, but the shipping fee as well; and that I was to deduct the car cost for myself and then pay the shipping agent his fee when he showed up to collect the vehicle. He then asked me to delete the for-sale ad and to call him when I had cashed the check, so that he could send the transport guy.

I had specified the exact amount that he should make the check out for because I wanted to avoid this “I pay you then you pay him” bullshit, and figured that if he did go ahead and send me more, that there was a problem.

This is the scam: I’ll pay you over and above; you pay the difference to someone else…

If I went through with this deal, the bank would have come to me weeks later, demanding the money back, and I would have not only had my car stolen – but I would have paid the thief a thousand dollars or more to drive the damn thing away!

The possibility made me so uncomfortable, that I canceled the deal.

There is no legitimate reason for him to expect me to pay the shipping agent (which he arranged for). I’m not new to vehicle shipments: the carrier typically charges you before he goes to pick up your vehicle – not when he gets it, or when he delivers it.

I emailed the "buyer" and told him that I wouldn’t complete this transaction or cash his check; and told him that I would mail it back to him if he sent me his return address.

I never heard back from him – verifying that this was indeed a scam.

Hopefully, this will serve as a warning to some of you not to be too trusting with the folks you deal with online. Now I’m off to send his “check” and contact info to the authorities.

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