The Internet has given new life to a lot of old scams, and perhaps one reason is that the institutions that should be fighting the hucksters don't always understand what's going on. That's certainly what one reader experienced when he tried to report an obvious check overpayment fraud to HSBC, the bank the phony check was drawn on.
"As a serious user of Craigslist and eBay, I'm pretty conscious of Internet fraud and the old advance fee check scams," the reader wrote. "So when I sold an item on Craigslist for $75 and a check for $2,150 arrived, I knew I was dealing with a fake check. That's not unusual, or even disturbing. It's expected. What was not expected was the response I received when trying to report this fraud."
Typically in check overpayment scams, the counterfeit check is drawn on a real account and may pass muster with the bank long enough for the seller to cash it. It's only later, after the seller has wired the excess amount to the soon-to-disappear buyer, that the check proves fake and the seller is left liable for the whole amount. In this case the reader knew better than to cash the check or send his item to the scammer's address in Downey, California, but he thought he should report it to the institutions involved.
"The check was drawn against HSBC bank," the reader wrote. "I called their support line and explained the situation. They told me to deposit the check and see if it cleared. I asked 'Let me get this straight. I know the check is fake. You know it's fake. Yet you are telling me to deposit it and commit a felony?' 'Well sir,' they said 'we can't tell you if it's fake or not until you deposit it.' 'I know it's fake. I've told you it's fake. Someone is creating counterfeit checks drawn on your bank.' 'Sir, we can't know that until you deposit it.' Pathetic."
The reader then tried to report the fraud to the company whose account information was faked on the check - a New York City foreign exchange dealer, not all of whom are above suspicion themselves. "I was told pretty much the same thing by them - I should go ahead and try to cash it. What the heck is going on? Supposedly these people are concerned with check fraud and theft, yet they tell me to break the law by trying to cash a fake check!"
The reader tried e-mailing Craigslist about the situation but with little expectation that they would respond. "No reply from Craigslist. They have so much of this that they rely on their FAQ pages to handle it. I received 17 e-mails on this listing -- 14 were from obvious scammers. The only company that has shown any interest was UPS, as the check was sent via UPS overnight. But I'm not holding my proverbial breath. My guess is that the scammer is avoiding the USPS to avoid action by the postal inspectors."
The reader regards the lack of responsibility displayed by HSBC and others with dismay. "When I asked the HSBC rep if they would be willing to work with me and cover my bounced check fees, guess what I was told? That any fees were between me and the person who sent the check. Huh? Hello? I hung up in disgust. I spent almost an hour on the phone with the bank and the rep for the foreign exchange outfit. Neither really gave a damn. Now I'm wondering who's the bigger fool -- the person who falls for these scams, or the person who tries to fight back."
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