We almost got scammed. Now that we’ve figured it out, I can’t believe how very nearly we fell for the whole thing. And how obvious it seems now as we piece it all together. So let us examine the case at hand…
It all began a couple weeks ago when Mat (I’m Emily) decided he was ready to sell his old mixing console. He listed the board on various sites including craigslist.org. We had no interest in dealing with shipping so he advertised it as “local pick-up only”.
Within a couple hours, two very interested parties responded via Craig’s List and a bidding war began. What luck! The first person to respond counter-offered by a couple hundred dollars then stated that it was her final offer and she would send us a check if we accepted and took down the ad. We were happy with the number so we agreed and sent her details for payment and pick-up. She responded that she had a shipping agent that would handle all the details. Ugh, a shipping agent. Not local pick-up. She said she would send us a check for $6500, an amount that was more than triple the price of the board and we were to deduct the money for the board and forward the rest to her shipping agent to pay for shipping the board and a few other transactions as well. Oh, and by the way, she’ll be in Europe for business so can we do it yesterday.
Well, we knew from past experience that when you pay for shipping and something gets damaged, you’re the one who has to deal with the insurance claim. So no way, no how were we going to pay the shipper. We told her as much and never heard back from her again.
Frustrated, Mat contacted the other very interested party in the bidding war and asked if he would still like to buy the board. Much to our excitement, the other party was still very interested and was willing to pay his last stated offer. Initially, he also wanted to send us additional money and have us pay the shipper, but we refused and he agreed to send payment. So Mat gave him our address.
A few days went by and we heard nothing. We had almost given up again when the buyer contacted Mat to apologize and said payment was on its way via UPS. Lo and behold, UPS knocked on our door the very next morning with an overnight delivery. Strangely, however, the payment equaled twice the price of the board. Did the guy know he had sent us too much? Was the remainder to pay the shipper? Did he not understand our explicit statement that we would not be involved in the shipping transaction?
We let him know that the payment had arrived. The buyer told Mat to let him know when the payment had cleared and he would arrange for shipping. This seemed very odd since he paid with money orders, which I assumed cleared immediately. So why would he suggest that we wait for them to clear? And he didn’t say anything about the overpayment.
A few days later, we checked our bank account online and found that the deposit, as expected, had gone through. We contacted the buyer to let him know and mentioned the overpayment and asked where we could send a refund of the difference.
He responded that his secretary had made a mistake and we should wire the balance to a person in Las Vegas and gave us a name and address. Um, ok. What part of “we are not paying you shipper” do you not understand? And yet, this wasn’t the name of a shipping company. It was an individual. And why would you use a shipper in Nevada for an item in Maryland?
Mat again wrote him to say we would not send money to his shipper and we weren’t going to deal with wiring money. He said we’d send him a check for a refund, but where? At this point, quiet alarms started going off in the back of my head. After all, the buyer had made no mention of when his shipper would pick up the board even though he had paid for it. Was he not concerned about getting the board? Why could he not get it through his head that we didn’t want to be involved in the shipping? Was this third party even a shipper? Regardless, we didn’t want to be liable for forwarding money to someone not involved in the transaction. It was starting to seem a little strange, but was the guy just stupid? It didn’t piece together.
Mat asked him for a phone number so we could clear things up quickly on the phone. He didn’t provide it. He asked him for his address so we could send him the check. He ignored us and said to Fed Ex the check overnight to the name and address in Las Vegas. And fast because he had other transactions waiting on that money. And couldn’t we please just do it the way he wanted?
We were in an odd predicament. We had money that didn’t belong to us, but the rightful owner was making it difficult for us to reach him. So we started to do a little stalking and discovered the following:
1. The address in Las Vegas to which the buyer wanted us to send payment does not exist.
2. The return address on the UPS package with our payment was in Craig, CO and does not exist.
3. One contact phone number on the UPS package was listed as unpublished and located in Moravia, NY.
4. The other contact number was an 800 number and does not exist.
5. The UPS tracking information reported that the package originated in Wichita, KS.
6. The billing information for the package was sent to UPS on February 7th, a Wednesday.
7. The package was not sent out for overnight delivery until February 9th, a Friday.
8. The package arrived at our house on February 12th, a Monday.
9. There were no references on the Internet for the names on the UPS return address, the “shipper” in Las Vegas, or our buyer.
Furthermore, the buyer had sent the payment as several $800 money orders, but the maximum amount per money order was $1000. So when we discovered his error, we couldn’t simply send him back a couple money orders, but had to write him a check in order to refund his money.
Then Mat realized the buyer had never asked any questions about the board and kept referring to it as the “item”. As Mat said, any audio guy who’s going to drop a little cash on a board is going to have a few questions and make a little small talk.
I began to think that we were involved in some kind of money laundering scam. Or perhaps the “buyer” was trying to send money to someone without its being traced back to him. Las Vegas? Gambling debts, maybe? Was I just being paranoid? Were mafia thugs going to show up on our front door if we didn’t do as were told?
Finally, we googled “craigslist scams” and found this.
So what do you know? We’d been duped by a common scam. It’s a pretty good one. Dude mails us bogus money orders for way more than we expected and we wire him back cold hard cash for the difference. A few days later, the banks catches the error and deducts the money orders and we’re out the money we wired. We assume he would have showed up at FedEx or Moneygram or wherever with a phony ID to claim his money. We called the bank and they said it would take a couple days to track back the money orders, but basically we’re in the clear as long we don’t send this guy any money. Lucky us.
The funny thing is before we figured it out, we told him he needed to get his act in gear or we would just send him a check back for all his money and we’d sell the board to someone else. We’re expecting an email any moment that gleefully says “no problem!” while our buyer wait to receive twice as much as he had expected.
So now we’re thinking we’ll write him back and say “actually, we’re sending you a money order for $10,000. Just wire the difference to my friend at this address. Now.”