Help wanted: Money order scam targets classified ads
Becoming a victim of an international money order scam is the last thing Brian Diaz expected when he tried to sell his puppies in the Post Independent classifieds section. But the Rifle resident figured out the scam scheme before he became a victim. One night in January, Diaz received a phone call from a call relay service for the hearing impaired. The person making the call asked him for information about the puppies – the same information that was contained in Diaz’s ad, which appeared on the newspaper’s Web site. “While I was on the call relay, a Sprint representative broke in and told me that this could be a fraudulent call, and asked if I wanted to continue,” Diaz wrote in an e-mail to the Post Independent classifieds department, used here with his permission. “I said yes.”The person asked him to e-mail details about the puppies once again. “I asked this person where they lived,” Diaz said. “They said New York. I e-mailed the person to see what info they wanted.”The person, who called himself “Cole Collins,” replied with an e-mail in garbled English outlining an elaborate scam. Collins offered to pay Diaz with a “certified money order,” and said he would send a representative of a special shipping company to pick up the puppies. Collins said he would send Diaz an overdraft money order to cover shipping costs. The extra money was to be wired to London via Western Union. Where the puppies would have gone is anybody’s guess. Worse, said Diaz, “soon the money order is bad, and I am out of the money that I sent them. It’s just scary to know that they tried to do this with a local newspaper ad.”A similar case was reported last year to the Post Independent classifieds department from a person in Aspen who was selling a musical instrument. The scam artist contacted the person via a call relay service and sent a Western Union money order for $3,000 more than the price of the instrument. The money order was bad, but nobody came to pick up the instrument. Worse, the person said, even though the bank said the money order was good, they wouldn’t stand by their word when the money order later turned up counterfeit, said the person, who wished to remain anonymous in this story because of potential litigation.Sherry Johnson, spokesperson for Greenwood Village-based Western Union, said she’s never heard of a counterfeit Western Union money order. “The check overpayment scam is not anything new,” she said, adding that money should be transferred only between people who know each other. Johnson said the company’s consumer fraud education program is accessible on its Web site, http://www.westernunion.com. She cautioned, however, that when a money order is accepted by a bank, it doesn’t mean the money order will clear. Before money or goods are sent to someone you don’t know, she said, be certain the money order is good and the funds have cleared the bank, a process that can sometimes take a month. Many scams have used U.S. Postal Service-issued money orders, but postal inspectors have begun to make arrests, helping to reduce the number of reported scams. Denver-based postal inspector Andrew Rivas said the scams vary widely and are “nothing new.” There have been few such incidents in recent months after they peaked early last year, he said. “We’ve seen a huge drop mainly because we’ve been educating people,” Rivas said. Most of the scams, he said, involve a scam artist sending a money order for an amount far greater than the value of the item they claim to want to purchase. “That should set off red flags,” he said. Postal inspectors have been intercepting bad money orders involved in the scams, he said, and arrests have been made in the United States and overseas. Many of the scams originate in Nigeria, he said. Most of the money orders sent in the scams are counterfeit, he said, and so money order recipients should know what a real one looks like. Legitimate money orders include a watermark of Benjamin Franklin, visible when held to a light. They also have a tiny security thread to the right of the watermark with “USPS” printed in tiny lettering on the front and back of the thread. If you doubt whether a money order is legitimate, “take it to a post office and have it verified,” Rivas said. “Don’t deposit it into a bank account.”Even though a bank may cash the money order, once it discovers the money order is fake, it could charge you for it and deduct the amount of the money order from your account, depending on the bank. Rivas said that victims of money order scams or those who think they may be victims should call the U.S. Postal Inspector’s office in Denver immediately on its 24-hour hotline: (303) 313-5320. More information is available on the Postal Inspector’s Web site, http://www.usps.com/postalinspectors.Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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