Smart About Money: Scam Victim Learns Tough Lessons

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A gentleman called and asked if he could get an “objective second opinion” on “something his bank had done.” I said, “Sure.”

Here’s what happened: He had received an email from a “mystery shopper company” — and there’s a reason why that’s in quotes — asking if he’d like to participate in their regional program to test service at local Western Union offices.

The deal? They’d overnight him three checks for $1,500 each. He would deposit these checks in his checking account, keeping $500 for his “work” and then send $4,000 back via four Western Union offices, $1,000 at each.

This “assignment” came at just the right time. His car needed some repairs and he figured, “$500 will cover that, and then some.”

He followed the instructions of the “mystery shopper company” to the letter, and that’s when the bad things started happening. First, he got a call from his bank, saying his account was overdrawn by several thousand dollars and asking when he was going to come in and clear that up. Then his online payments started bouncing left and right. And then he started getting overdraft charge after overdraft charge — hundreds of dollars worth.

Needless to say, he went right over to the bank, and they told him that he had been scammed. The $4,500 in checks he’d been sent were counterfeit. “Okay, that’s pretty bad,” he thought. “But now the bank insurance will make me right on this.”

The man was astonished, and then truly enraged, to learn that bank insurance covers depositors against a bank failing. There is no bank insurance covering customers against being scammed.

“Well, what if I just refuse to make good on the $4,500?” he asked the banker. She told him he had (even unknowingly) been passing bad checks. For all they knew, he could be a money launderer. They didn’t want to bring in the police, but they would if they had to.

People love having instant access to deposited funds, and it is a good development. Unfortunately, scammers worldwide love it too, which is why banks urge customers to be extremely careful about who they accept checks from. Banks are legally required to protect assets. This man’s bank had no choice but to expect him to make good on the counterfeit checks he had deposited.

A red flag for scams

Please be aware of this and please share it with anyone you think it might save from a scam: If a stranger asks you to deposit checks that they send you into your account and then wire the money somewhere for them, it’s a scam. Period.

Bankers and police hear endless variations of this man’s story all the time, usually and sadly after someone has lost a substantial sum.

If you’re not sure or find yourself hoping this deal could be real, please talk to a manager at your bank before you act. Or call your local police and ask to speak to an investigator about a possible fraud. (The Canton Police have an excellent fraud team — call 781-828-1212.)

Nick Maffeo is the senior vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer at the Canton Co-operative Bank in Canton. Have a question? Email to submissions@thecantoncitizen.com.

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avatar Posted by on Aug 16 2012. Filed under Featured Content, Opinion, Smart About Money. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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