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How To Identify Online Fraud

Classifieds Ad Fraud and Scams

The scenario is as follows:
You have something for sale, (I have a laptop for sale) and you advertise it on ebay, or on a classified ad site like craigslist. You receive an email response something like this(this is an actual response):

Mrs Blessing Williams
[email protected]

Dear Seller,
I am very much interested in your Laptop, i actually want to get it for a friend in africa.Therefore i will like you to treat this transaction very urgent and the shippment shall be to africa(Lagos-Nigeria). I am ready to pay you via western union money order for your item with the cost of shippment to africa . I would like have your words that upon receipt of confirmation and approval letters from western union money order that your payment has been made that you shall release the package for shippment. so if you are interested you could send me your full name and contact address with which payment will be made. Please do convert your money to United states Dollars.

Thanks for your understanding and God Bless you.

Breakdown of the entire process:
You receive an email response, such as the one above, with an offer to complete the transaction via paypal, or through a Western Union money order. If you notice, the offer is often twice your asking price, or even 3 times.

The buyer will propose that you you to cash the money order, and take your funds out of the proceeds. Once you have taken out your funds for the sale of the item, you are directed to return the balance to them. This is done either by a 3rd party. Arrangements will be made for someone will come by and pick up the item, or you may be supplied with a Fedex Prepaid account.

What to Look For
1) The fraudster will always have a compelling reason to purchase your item, such as a gift, or a surprise for someone, or for their store display, or for any compelling reason.
2) The scammers usually claim to be Christian, or lead you to believe they are trustworthy - which causes you to let down your guard somewhat.

There are telltale signs that are easily identified. For starters, the email response you receive from your for sale ad will typically be "harvested" and will have an exact quote of your item.You may notice the the item will be placed inside brackets in the email body, for example: If I posted an ad that stated "fast internet laptop with free carry bag!", the email that the "scam artist" would send would look something like this:

Dear Seller, I am very much interested in the purchase (fast internet laptop with free carry bag!) for my friend in Africa...etc.

Notice that the subject has been pasted, or inserted into the email response. Hence the brackets, and the context it is used - makes the email sound gramatically wrong. Thus the result of some sort fo email harvesting program that inserts the item description into en email template.

Watch out for clues such as:

I require the item immediately
I need it sent to Africa, (Nigeria specifically)
They prefer to use paypal -and try to impress upon you the security and ease of use with paypal
They will not send a postal money order (US and Canadian post office money order)

Methods of Payment:
They offer to pay through Western Union, Paypal. and will send you a confirmation of receipt, a money order from Western Union, or even a really professional looking cheque.
(I received a cheque drawn upon a Canadian bank that looked amazingly legitimate)

My bank had to contact the branch and have them look into it. The other branch was across Canada! They even had a hard time determining if it was legitimate.

My bank advised me to deposit it, then they could track it, however, knowing how banks work, I did not want my account frozen while they investigated the matter. They ask for your full name and address so they may send you the details of payment, or the actual money order/cheque.

Shipping methods:

1) They often offer to have you drop the item off at a fedex office, using an account number that they will supply you.
2) They "have a friend that owes them money" and that friend will stop by and pick up the item
3) You ship the item (as quickly as possible), and they will include the shipping charges in the payment

They often say that a receipt will be sent to verify that the money order has been sent, and is "verified" by Bidpay or Western Union. THis may be the case, where the money order is actually ligitimate, but it usually has been purchased with a stolen credit card.

You are expected to ship the item upon receipt "proof of payment/verification" of the money order being on the way, or available at a local western union office.

Ultimately, the results:
You receive a money order or a cheque; you deposit it and sent the items to the buyer; all seems fine until 6 weeks later, your bank advises you that the money order was fraudulent, and you are liable for replacing the funds. You are not out the moneym, and the item. You will not be able to track the buyer to get your item and money back. You have been scammed!

The newest method is to use papal to purchase your item. Then once purchased, and you have shipped the item, a chargeback is done to paypal. The chargeback is usually from a fraudulently obtained credit card, and the legitimate credit card holder requested a chargeback. This reverses the purchase from paypal. In the end you have shipped your item for sale, and have lost the payment as well.

Worse yet, is that paypal will deduct the funds from your paypal account. if you have already withdrawn the funds, then your paypal account will go into a negative balance. Your paypal account will not work until you restire a 0 balance, meaning that you have to replenish the paypal account from your bank, or credit card. 

More Stories By R.C. Ricci

R.C. Ricci is an internet and technology professional, a musician, and general all around tech-head. R.C. gave up the daily commute from IBM Canada, and various dot com companies to focus on personal ventures. RC's extensive experience with technology has him dabbling and repairing everything from TV's to LCD's, laptops, Sony PSP's, Xbox, 360 and guitar amplifiers. When he's not out offering his technology services, you can find him tearing up a club or a stage near you, where he performs in several rock bands.