The Setup: Buying my artwork
From out of the blue, a woman emailed me about buying two of my artworks and could they get a discount for buying two? Naturally, I emailed back and gave them a price and a discounted one as well. They decided to buy one, which was cool. They would send me a check.
The woman got all chatty talking about how her husband was in Johannesburg as they were moving there for his job (setting me up for rushing things so I wouldn’t take the time to think). Later emails were on how she was in the hospital, then how she was having a rough pregnancy (playing on the sympathy card). Don’t forget, her husband was not in the country…supposedly. Oh yeah, she got my sympathy up even as I was becoming wary.
Another email arrived saying that there was a mixup and her husband was having a client send me the check since he was out of town. Oh, and, darn, he had sent more money than just the purchase price because he thought they were paying the shipping and could I send the extra cash onto the shipper please?? —a $4,000 check for a $1,050 purchase.
The Check is in the Mail
Then the emails got fast and furious followed by multiple phone calls—from a BLOCKED number. Had I received the check yet? The check is in the mail, had I gotten it yet? Okay, I could understand the anxiety. They were getting ready for an international move. She was in the hospital with a bad pregnancy/life-threatening illness/whatever…
The day the check arrived, the husband was on the phone wanting to know if it had arrived. When I told him it had, he demanded that I immediately get to the bank with it.
I was already concerned; red flags had been popping all over. The grammar in their emails was terrible. Okay, English was their second language. But, then again…if someone can afford my artwork, they usually have good English. And there is a difference between good, second-language English and lousy English.
I wasn’t to worry or bill them for the shipping as their shipper would be picking the artwork up from me personally…even though they live in Seattle. Supposedly.
Sending me a check for $4,000…just how much did they think the shipping might be?? Flying would have been cheaper! Heck, driving cross-country would have been cheaper even if I stayed in 5-star hotels and drove a gas-guzzler!
Got an email from a shipper…who didn’t have a website. The push to deposit that check. The check itself was on the account of a company based in Massachusetts drawn on a bank in California. The husband had his phone number blocked and never left a message so I never had a phone number on which to call him back.
I could come up with reasons for most of these red flags. BUT, not for such a huge mass of them. And it wouldn’t hurt for me to ask the bank to check. Well, okay, it did hurt. I had plans for that money! Plans that could backfire if I deposited a bad check!
What I Did
I practically cried…I really wanted that sale. And, from research I’d done on a previous project, this had all the hallmarks of a scam. I took the check to the bank with my fingers crossed. I spoke to several people in the bank and they contacted the issuing bank in California to find that the account had a fraud block on it.
I went home and called the police. I gave them all the emails; I’d saved most and pulled the first few out of the trash. I was lucky. I’d gotten suspicious early.
How It Works for the Bad Guys
These people had stolen a company’s identity and were using it to take the money out of this account by having me deposit the check. Sure, I’d get to keep the $1,050 IF the check actually cleared. A pretty big if because it actually takes a few days for the money the check represents to truly be in your account.
The bank usually grants you the use of the money before it actually “appears” in your account. With the Martins hounding me to deposit and forward the money, I’d actually have spent my own money to forward the $2,950 PLUS the wiring fees.
There are a couple of government websites that talk about the scams and provide tips: http://www.ic3.gov, a partnership between the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center, and the Bureau of Justice Assistance and http://www.phonebusters.com which is sponsored by the Royal Canadian Mounties. They list the scams and provide descriptions.
So if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is…dang it…and you can check with either of these sites to check.
In speaking with the detective assigned my case, he stated that there was no point in my telling the “buyers” that they’d have to send a certified check or money order. That using PayPal would not help as all these payment methods (yes, credit cards too) are easily faked.
He also told me that art is just one product/service that they use. One scam has the pastor selling used wedding dresses as part of a charitable function. Another claims that you’re the perfect fit for their organization to open up a branch in your city and they’ll send you the money to get set up and pay your first week’s/month’s/whatever salary. The trick is to find the commonalities.
Again, if it sounds too good to be true…sigh…it is.
I realize that people may think this is a hoax. One of those urban myths. You can find me at my writing website, http://kddidit.com, or my arts site, http://www.eyesdelight.com.
I’m real. It happened. Please don’t let it happen to you. Spread this message to everyone you know. They’re using the Internet to hurt people. Let’s use it to hurt them right back!