Don’t Be a Victim of Fraud!


One of my associates recently told me of two instances where her family had been a victim of fraud. This surprised me because she and her husband are very astute and seemed to me unlikely to fall for any scam. Here’s her story:
In her first instance, her husband sold some high-end electronic to a buyer through eBay. The buyer used his credit card and paid through eBay’s PayPal system. Once he received the merchandise, he contacted his credit card company and disputed the order saying the equipment was defective. The credit card company immediately contacted PayPal who debited my associate’s checking account for the amount of the purchase. My associate attempted to contact the buyer to have him return the merchandise but he never returned repeated phone calls. Ultimately, she had her attorney send him a letter threatening a law suit. He responded by returning the merchandise via ‘cash-on-delivery’, meaning she was out the shipping charges. The goal of these scammers is to re-sell the merchandise knowing that most victims won’t go to the extreme effort my associate did. In detailed conversations with the credit card company and PayPal, it became clear that the sellers are taking all the risks with very little recourse should a dispute arise. Read the article to learn about bike shipping and other vehicle shipping. A variation on this scam is the ‘stop payment’ on a check once you’ve sold your merchandise. Most people don’t know that bank cashier’s checks or bank official checks can also have stop-payment request leaving you to fight for equitable resolution. They are also easily counterfeited. 
In her second case, she was selling a flat screen TV through the newspaper. A buyer agreed to pay with a money order. She assumed, wrongly, that a money order was as good as cash. She met the buyer and exchanged the TV for the money order but got no other information. When she went to deposit the money order, it turned out to be an altered money order and was worthless. She says, “In the future, I’ll never accept a money order as payment…only cash!” Well, sometimes cash is not good enough. Recently, a Birmingham produce vendor sold his entire stock for a stack of fifty dollar bills which turned out to be counterfeit! My associate might have better protected herself if she’d gotten personal information from the buyer such as a cell phone photo of him, his driver’s license and car tag.
If all of this sounds like it’s pretty easy to become a victim of scam artists or thieves, you’re right. How can you protect yourself? Here are a few tips for avoiding becoming a victim of the most common scams:
·        You won the lottery, grand drawing or sweepstakes. First, assume you didn’t! Never give out any personal information to anyone you don’t know personally. Even if you do know them be leery about giving out personal information that could be used for identity theft such as Social Security number, date of birth, credit card number.
·        Reduce telemarketer calls. Go to and add all of your phone numbers to the Do Not Call list. You can register both land line and cell phones and only takes a couple of minutes. Report any future telemarketers through the same website.
·        Never make advance payments. Many scams offer you a big payday if you’ll only pay a small fee. Others will write you a large check in exchange for a smaller check. Their check, money order or cahiers check is no good or a fake.
·        Choose a professional location for an exchange. If you are selling something to someone, have them meet you at the bank their check will be drawn from and have the bank verify funds and cash the check before you complete the exchange. Another associate of mine was selling a motorcycle and had an enthusiastic buyer. She insisted they meet at the bank for the exchange. He never showed up!
I like to keep a positive attitude about people and human nature but you must temper your optimism with a dose of reality. Perhaps the best attitude is to ‘expect the best but plan for the worst’.