Monday, December 26, 2005

Scammers Posing as Victims?

Lately, we have seen a surge of fraudulent financial instruments circulated through the internet. Daily, there are alerts by the FDIC on counterfeit cashier checks (FDIC: Special Alerts) and other alerts on counterfeit postal money orders, counterfeit money orders in general and counterfeit Qchex items (checks mailed to your e-mail).

These counterfeit instruments are often (as you will see maybe not always) used to commit Advance fee fraud, where the goal is to get someone to wire money (normally overseas) after cashing one of these instruments. There are many versions of these scams and victims are harvested off of job, dating, auction and lottery sites.

Thus far, it seems that law enforcement has had little success in prosecuting these advance fee crimes because the people passing the fraud checks are considered victims and since the money is wired to some faraway locale, the senders are also hard to go after.

While there are millions of victims out there, we are starting to see the criminal element take advantage of a general apathy in prosecuting these crimes by posing as victims.

Here is a story out of Montana from the AP (Man admits depositing bad check), where a man opened an account with one of these checks, drained it and never wired the money back to Nigeria. In this story, the culprit admitted, he felt it was a scam and didn't really think the bank would honor the check.

I doubt if he communicated his concerns to the bank!

The key to spotting these counter-scams is that no wire transfer takes place. Even when a wire transfer takes place, the person passing these items is sometimes getting money for something they sold in addition to (normally) a "little extra" for negotiating the item. Another key-factor indicating collusion is when the passer suffers no personal financial liability for doing so. Many of these items are passed at institutions that cash checks for a fee, which include grocery stores and even Walmart.

These institutions often bear the initial and often final costs of accepting the item when the passer tells their collection department that they no longer have any of the money. Of course, maybe they are just claiming to no longer have the money?

I've recently seen evidence (sent to me by readers) in the form of e-mail correspondence that advance fee scammers are directing people to these establishments, partially because the banks are becoming wiser and these businesses often offer wire transfer services, also.

When these people collect a substantial amount of money, plus a "tip" and then claim they can't pay it back without being able to show money being wired; serious consideration should be given towards further investigation.

This is especially true in the case of auction scams. In most cases, the advance fee scammer isn't interested in the money and only the cash, which is wired to them. In theory, the auctioneer (who never sent the merchandise and cashed the check) could very well be laughing all the way to the bank. Some of these counter-scammers could doing this over and over again and if they are confronted, they cry "victim."

After all, most of the auction sites flash a warning about this type of scam when people are posting to sell something. It make one wonder how many people could be posing as a victim out there?

This leads me to believe that although we must protect the victims, we also need to take a hard line on those attempting to take financial advantage of the situation. The bottom line is that pretending to be a victim, or even attempting to pass an item that one suspects to be fraud makes the person making the fraud claim as guilty as the person, who sent it to them.

What is needed is more through screening of fraud claims, making it mandatory to produce evidence that money was wired and in cases (where the passer suffered no personal financial liability) that everything makes sense and they never received any financial gain from it. There should also be mandatory reporting of these incidents from which data bases could be created that would identify "repetitive victims." One of the reasons this activity continues to grow is the continuing lack of reporting and investigation when it occurs. In the long run, failure to get aggressive on this matter will only inspire more of it, which makes all of us victims.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sadly enough, there are many crooks out there who claim fraud when they know exactly what is going on.