Saturday, November 27, 2010

BEWARE - International Money Order Scam

Kari and Company recently fell victim to an international money order scam. We try to be good, and trusting. Because many times our clients feel uncomfortable doing business with people like us (web designers don't have the best rep for being responsive) online without meeting face to face.

But this time, the tables were certainly turned - and we'll be paying closer attention next time the red flags of fraud come up. Here's what happened:

We received an email from a 'potential client' overseas. We've been scammed before by clients overseas - where we spend weeks working on their web design project and then they never pay us our fee. And since they're overseas - there's really no recourse. However, we gave this potential client the benefit of the doubt (first time).

They requested a bid for a small business website design. We offered a quote, reached an agreement and sent our typical statement of work - and requested our standard 50% of our fee as a retainer of our services. Which brings us to:

RED FLAG #1 - Our 'potential client' immediately said that they could not pay by PayPal (which is what we usually use because it's a safe and secure way to pay by credit card online for services such as ours) . Instead, they insisted that they had to send a 'check'. We were informed that their 'associate' in the States would be sending a check directly to us. We asked the 'associate's name' - we were told it 'not important' - that the 'associate' owed them money, and they were going to pay the fees. This is a HUGE red flag - in many ways - both because the 'associate' was the one paying, and also the 'they owe me money' lie. If someone cannot pay via Paypal, (which is so easy to use) there should be a small red flag anyway. Granted: some companies pay by check - which is why we were agreeable to a check being mailed. In this economy, money is money - and work is work. We didn't want to turn away a project.

So - we gave them the benefit of the doubt (second time) and agreed to allow the 'associate' to mail us a check. We did receive a piece of mail a few days later - and low and behold -

- it wasn't actually a check at all - but rather - a money order. This is another lie - as this was to have been a check. We assumed, a business check - but instead we receive a personal money order. And to make matters more weird - we are immediately brought to:

RED FLAG #3 - the fact that we didn't just receive a money order for our fee, or the 50% down we requested - but we received TWO money orders - for DOUBLE the amount of the total services agreed upon. Who does this? Who sends double the money in this economy? Who has funds to throw around without even meeting someone on the internet? Scam artists - that's who.

We knew at this point - as we did in the beginning - that something was just not right. But - we gave them the benefit of the doubt (third time) because we didn't want to be rude, we didn't want to accuse, and we didn't want to turn away a project.

So - we deposited ONE of the money orders, and contacted our 'potential client' to ask for an address to mail the overage money order to them directly. Which brings us to:

RED FLAG #4: The 'potential client' then said it was a mistake on the part of their 'associate' - and that we should go ahead and deposit or cash the money and wire it to them directly via Western Union or Money Gram.

Simultaneously - we checked with the banks involved (my bank - as well as the issuing bank of the money order) and were told - as we suspected - that the money order was indeed counterfeit.

And these money orders look SO legitimate. They are only off by one tiny number. Most everything on the money order checked out - except for the account that pays it. The scammers are hoping that you'll 'have a heart' (as our scam artist put it), and cash it for them and keep your due part, and wire them the overage. We told our scam artist that we went shopping for Black Friday.

The course of the emails has now gone completely away from the project we were hired to do - and all about this overage and whether it's been wired to them.

They are banking on us cashing the money on our account, then our account gets hit once the banks figure out the money orders are fake. Luckily - we followed our gut.

Hopefully you won't fall victim to such a scam. Frankly, we could not believe we were the target of such a plan, but we have talked to many of our clients and friends - and cyber scams including the "Paypal payment email scam" and "Craigslist scam" are rampant.

What should you do?

For starters - listen to your gut - and know the red flags. In our case - we communicated with our bank and notified the local branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. There's not much they can do because things are not really trackable. BUT - they can learn from all the experiences and educate consumers and businesses - as well as individuals to be prepared and observant of such practices.

Truly, I wish I'd listened to Kim and nipped the whole thing in the bud before it all started - because it was nothing more than a huge inconvenience and waste of time and effort. Kim had a very strong bad feeling about it from the start, but I didn't want to seem rude or turn away a project. Turns out, she was VERY right.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kari, Thank you for helping us, other business owners and consumers realize just how low these scamers will go! We to were victimized by a simulat scam w/ a credit card. What set off flags for us was the fact that the Fed Ex shipping, which they asked us to go ahead and use said credit card cost more than the products. We were told to contact the US Secret Service, when I called the agent kind of smiled ( I could tell as he spoke), I said excuse me is this funny, he said no sir, not at all, but you are reporting $4,000 correct, well the company just before you reported a scam of $400,000! All of a sudden I felt better. Thans again for your warning, I just hope people do listen to their gut! God Bless, Raphael M