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Articles: Money Order Scam  
You, Too, Could be a Victim!

Anyone selling merchandise on the Internet has read or heard of money order fraud. Of course all of us believe that we could not be victims. Certainly we are savvy enough to avoid the trap. Well, think again!

Over the past eight years, I have cashed hundreds of personal checks and money orders and never had a problem. I had become complacent, believing that my business was too small for anyone to target. I quickly learned that if you sell merchandise, you can unknowingly become a potential victim. Recently I avoided losing more than $9800.00 by following my gut instincts. Unfortunately being the potential victim of a money order scam cost me many hours of wasted time. It is amazing how easy you can get caught up in their scheme. In May of 2004 I received a fairly typical e-mail from an international customer who was requesting merchandise from my online store.

However, his initial contact was not typical. He began by requesting a comprehensive list of the antiques I had for sale. He also stated he needed a price list. My Web site describes items in detail and has a price listed with each item. It was obvious to me that he had not actually been on my web site. My typical customer would have already been on my web store site and have decided what they would like to purchase. They send me item numbers and a request for the shipping costs. I instantly became suspicious. {Clue No.1}. But I had no idea that this gentleman was setting me up for a fraudulent transaction. I initially thought he was a window shopper and not a serious customer. Little did I know he would keep me involved in his scam for more than eight weeks.

I redirected him to my web store. A few days later he sent me an impressive list of items that he was interested in. He stated the items would be sent to London, England. I provided him with the shipping cost and the payment methods that I accept. Many days later this gentleman contacted me requesting the most expensive shipping method. {Clue No.2}. Most international customers request the least expensive shipping method.

Over an eight week period, this gentleman contacted me with numerous complications begging me to not sell the items to another customer. He had Customs problems, customer glitches, and complaints of excessive fees. He had claimed to be an inter-dealer, an importer/exporter. He explained that the fees on this $462 order would cost him more than $4000! Having participated in numerous overseas sales, I found these fees to be excessive. I also thought it was odd that he was bothering me with this information. {Clue No. 3}.

I also noticed over the following weeks that his e-mails began to contain less broken English and were becoming more grammatically correct. He was sounding more English speaking. {Clue No. 4}.

Despite knowing there was something definitely wrong with this transaction I decided to continue to play along hoping I would discover what his motives were.

Approximately eight weeks later I received a money order in the mail. It was postmarked from Ireland but drawn on a U.S. bank. What really surprised me was the money order was for $4900.00. {clue no. 5}. He only owed me $462.00. Interestingly the money order was in a name and address of a sender that was not my customer from England. There also was no return address on the envelope. { Clue No. 6}.

I e-mailed him requesting detailed information about the money order he claimed to have mailed to me. I told him I needed to be sure this one was his money order. He described the money order in detail and then simply stated I should wire him $4438.00. At this point there was no mention of his merchandise order. He did not provide a detailed address of where I would ship the items. He certainly had no interest in the merchandise at all. Customers typically are very concerned about their international shipments. They immediately will request extra careful packaging. His only concern was the $4438.00. {clue No.7}.

I contacted my customer and informed him that the money order would need to be verified for its validity through the bank that issued it. I also informed him that I had no intention of sending him any money. I advised him that if the money order was legitimate I would return it to the sender in Pennsylvania. He immediately responded very angrily, stating that I had promised I would send him the additional money. {His English was quite good at this point}. He explained to me that the $4400 was to cover his fees incurred in this sale. He continued to try to pressure me into wiring the money. I understand now that this is a common tactic used by the scam artists. They will use psychological tactics in an attempt to intimidate their victims. This often works according to the statistics I've read. For more information, try an online search for money order fraud. You will be surprised how common this is. It is surprising that I have not encountered it sooner.

Once I confronted him, his e-mails stopped. I contacted the bank that allegedly issued the money order. I learned that the money order was indeed counterfeit. I reported the fraudulent money order to the attorney general's office in my city and filed a formal complaint. It is highly doubtful that this person will be caught, but at least he did not add my money to his take.

I have learned that this is a very typical money order scam. These individuals will send a seller an e-mail telling them that they wish to purchase a product. They generally will use a money order. However, sometimes they use a cashiers scam always involves sending a check or money order that is much larger than the merchandise order. The seller will go to his bank and cash the money order or cashier's check. The merchandise will be shipped. It will initially appear like any other transaction but within a couple of weeks the bank that cashed the money order will contact the seller and inform him/her that the money order was counterfeit. The bank will request the seller to reimburse the bank for the amount of the money order. The seller has very little recourse. The buyer will have disappeared. In my case I would have had to pay the bank back $4900.00. I would have been out the $4438.00 that was wired to the buyer. In addition to that I would have shipped my merchandise to a bogus address and lost $462.00. A grand total of $9800.00 would have been my loss! That would have been a devastating blow for my small business.

The bank informed me that when, sellers, receive a money order or cashiers check they can call the bank and ask them to verify that the money order or check is indeed legitimate. In my opinion if you have a sale involving a large sum of money, I would verify the legitimacy of the money order or check prior to shipping your merchandise. This will slow your sale down by a couple of days. But I believe that most customers will be very understanding if we explain why we are doing this. It is important to keep in mind that if a customer sends us a sum of money larger than the purchase order ..... this is a problem. We should never cash money orders or checks that are larger than our sale. To do this is taking a great risk.

Be alert. Be careful of whom you are dealing with. Most important, if something does not feel right about a potential sale, most likely it is not. Use common sense. You may be their target but you don't need to be their victim.

TIPS ON HOW TO AVOID GETTING RIPPED OFF

  1. Only cash a money order or check for the exact amount of the purchase.
  2. If you suspect the money order or check may be counterfeit or stolen, conduct the bank.
  3. When possible use a service like PayPal or BidPay to accept payments from your customers.
  4. Any orders that to take an excessive amount of time to conclude are suspect.
  5. Always pay heed to your gut feelings regarding a transaction. Don't proceed if it feels uncomfortable.

Written by Linda M. LaRock. The author of " You,Too,Can Make Money Selling "Good Junk". A book about buying and selling ordinary items found at garage sales, flea markets and auctions.It is a quick and easy guide to starting a business selling "Good Junk" from your home. It is available at www.amazon.com or order directly from the author at lovely13675@usadatanet.net. Retail price is $12.95 plus shipping. .



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