Anatomy of a scam

The more I think about it, the angrier it makes me.

Someone tried to commit check fraud on us this morning, and used one of my wife’s paintings as the bait. They initially contacted my wife via her Etsy store, and offered to buy one of her paintings. The email had a number of red flags in it, but we were excited at the prospect of selling one of her paintings, and forgave them.

1) The email was written in barely-literate English.
2) The buyer claimed “I have my own shipping company, so you don’t need to worry about that.”
3) The buyer refused to use Etsy-approved payment methods, but offered instead to send a cashier’s check.
4) The buyer didn’t actually want any particular painting, and suggested that we just send three and let her pick.

#4, by itself, is not only a red flag, but profoundly insulting. Maria’s paintings, in addition to being beautiful, are intensely personal. To say, oh, “I don’t care, any one of them is fine,” indicates a disregard to the art that is just rude.

But, we wanted to make a sale, so we took the bait.

After a few emails, the scam became more apparent. How it works is that they’ll send us a check for more than the purchase amount, and we’re to use the excess to pay for shipping. The buyer’s “personal shipping company” will show up at the door to collect the goods, and we pay for shipping with the excess in the check.

Later on, when the check is discovered as a forgery, we’re on the hook to cover the cost. At that point, the buyer has our valuable painting, as well as the excess funds, and it’s all come out of our bank account.

As soon as the bluff was called, the buyer vanished, and even deleted her Etsy account.

So, the moral of this story is that if the above happens to you, report it to Etsy (or whatever other vendor you’re dealing with) first, and don’t bother responding to the buyer. If a buyer tries to route around either the established payment methods, or the established shipping methods, it’s probably a scam. If the buyer offers to pay more than the purchase amount, and then have you reimburse the excess in any out-of-band way, such as Western Union, a third-party shipping company, or sending it to some off-shore entity, that’s the mechanism of the theft, and the purchase item is just a front.

I think it’s this last thing that offends me so much – that Maria’s lovely art work would be nothing more than a prop in an act designed to rob from us. Absolutely disgusting.

On the bright side, arrests for money order fraud are apparently on the rise, according to various websites I read this morning. Do your research, and, most importantly, if you have any reason to suspect that a transaction is fraudulent, go ahead and assume it is, and report it to any appropriate agency, the website you’re doing business through, and the ISP of the fraudulent buyer.