Examples From Scam Artists: Fraudulent Checks
inOctober 25, 2007 - 4:56pm
We want to alert e-commerce shop owners to a disturbing trend we're seeing in the online marketplace – a significant increase in the number of fraudulent purchases. Recently, we have become aware of an alarming number of fraudulent online purchase requests, and unfortunately, some shop owners have fallen for them. If you're new to selling online, the first few orders you get can be exciting, but be aware, scammers particularly target newer, less experienced e-commerce shops. Protect yourself – make it a point to understand how they work.
Buyers From Nigeria and Other Remote Areas
For years Nigeria has been a haven for scam artists, and many Internet sellers have fallen victim to their schemes. But as the Internet selling environment matures, attracting more and more e-commerce shop owners, scammers from other remote areas of the world are also attracted to the Internet and they come in search of new and unsuspecting sellers to take advantage of. And unbeknownst to some online sellers, scammers use ISP’s specifically designed to mask their true location and pretend to be located in seemly safe part of the world from which to conduct a purchase transaction.
How it works: the buyer (scammer) offers to purchase an item with a cashier's check, which will turn out to be phony. Or, they will request to pay you with a check written for more than the price of the item, asking that you send them back the difference when you ship the item. Initially, your bank accepts the check, but later (sometimes weeks) the bank determines the check is phony, and debits your bank account for the amount of the check. Or, in some cases, the buyer will request to wire payment directly into your account, requiring your bank account information to make the transfer, and will either wire funds processed with a stolen credit card eventually resulting in a debit to your bank account for the amount once discovered by your bank, or they will use your bank account information in other fraudulent ways.
With the proliferation of these scams worldwide, it is not a question of if you will be approached, but when. Scam artists typically scour online sites looking for the newest, and least experienced shops. Don't be fooled! Many e-commerce shop owners simply have a policy not to do business with anyone from countries with which they are not familiar.
Due to the recent increase in scams, many e-commerce shop owners are choosing to accept foreign payment via PayPal only, and only from verified buyers that are on PayPal's list of approved countries. Here's a list of PayPal's approved countries:
Phony Cashier's Checks and Regular Checks
The common thinking is that a cashier's check is the safest form of payment. But scam artists are becoming increasingly skilled at producing cashier's checks, regular checks, and money orders, good enough to fool a bank, initially. And a bank can and will come back to you, days or even months later, once they determine the check or money order presented is fraudulent. We recommend that if any aspect of a transaction appears suspicious, or if a check is not drawn on a U.S. bank, that you do not accept the check. Many shops require a 7-10 business day wait for a check to clear before sending an item, even on U.S. drawn checks. Again, if you're not sure about a transaction or payment type, talk with your bank before accepting such a payment.
The following is a list of possible warning signs for a potentially fraudulent purchase:
Communication in poor English, or whatever language they use to contact you
The buyer tells you a story about themselves, a family member or an associate having a large amount of money and wants to run it through your bank
Buyer requests your bank account information in order to wire funds (often for more than the price of the item) into your bank account, and requests a check for the difference.
Steps You Can Take To Protect Yourself:
1. Understand that it is very probable that you will encounter such a transaction at some point in your online selling career.
2. Do not accept payments via bank wire, or give out your bank account information for any reason unless you are fully acquainted with the business entity you are transacting with.
3. Do not accept payment of any type for more than the cost of the sales transaction.
4. Do not accept checks of any type not drawn on a bank within the country where you do business.
5. Develop a policy to hold any check for 7-10 business days.
6. For international buyers, consider accepting only PayPal as payment, and only if they are a verified PayPal buyer from a country that is approved by PayPal.
7. Many shops that do choose to accept non-PayPal payments prefer international money orders and/or international postal money orders. Contact your bank for specific details in advance of accepting these payments.
8. Follow your intuition. If a transaction seems unusual or too good to be true, it probably is.
9. Don't participate in transactions that require bank-related steps on your part that seem out of the ordinary. Giving people the benefit of the doubt in the online world is simply asking for trouble. Buyers who have unusual requests are hoping to find someone who will sympathize with them, and follow their instructions right into the scam.
10. If you feel that a transaction may be fraudulent, simply let the buyer know that you will not be able to complete the transaction. Discontinue communication.
Physical Characteristics to Examine on Checks and Money Orders
Money orders purchased from most vendors typically have an upper limit to the dollar amount the money order can be written for, and generally this is not a very large amount. Limits vary from vendor to vendor. The maximum allowed amount (or limit) is almost always printed on the money order somewhere. For instance, if you see "Not Negotiable for any Amount over $500." in small print below the amount line, but the money order has apparently been 'written' for $2500, you have a fake.
Amounts on most money orders or printed checks will generally vary. Fraudulent instruments will almost consistently be written in even amounts (i.e. $1,000; $2,500 etc.) and often the figure will exceed the actual amount needed to pay for an item being purchased. The 'buyer' will then request that you refund them the difference when you ship the item. It is recommended to not accept payment of any type if written for more than the cost of the sales transaction.
Most official instruments will be written on special paper and they will always employ one or more special fraud prevention devices. You can find them if you make it a habit to look for them. Some elements to look for:
Hold a check or money order to the light to look for watermarks.
Micro text is a fraud prevention device that will almost always be found on checks issued by a banking institution, and it can also be found on some money orders. This is text that is so small to the human eye it appears to be an unbroken line; but with magnification the line actually can be seen to be printed words, a line of text.
For this one, take a look at your personal checks to get an idea of what to look for. A lock icon with, "Security Features Included - Details on back" would direct you to the back of a check for instructions on what features to look for. Take out a loupe or magnifying glass to check where those instructions tell you to look for the micro text. You might be surprised to find the signature line that you've been signing all these years on your own checks isn't really a drawn line, at all, but the tiny words, "Authorized Signature" written again and again.
If someone has used an ordinary copy machine to make a bogus check, the micro text printed on the original will not be printed as text on the copy. It will come out on the copy the same way your unaided eye sees it - as a drawn line. So if you can't see micro text where it's supposed to be (because the copy machine will print the original directions), have your financial institution exam the check or money order before depositing it in your account.
Just because a check or money order is without one of the above characteristics does not necessarily mean a payment form is fraudulent, but if you suspect it might be, take it to the issuing bank or vendor, or to your own bank and ask them to verify the check or money order is legitimate.
Examples of Emails from Fraudulent Buyers
The following are real examples of actual correspondence conducted with e-commerce shops by fraudulent buyers. They have not been edited so that you can get a real life picture of what an email from a fraudulent buyer may look like in order to help you to recognize the warning signs:
Be informed and stay safe!