The red flags were there, and despite the fact that I have written about these sorts of scams, I got drawn into the web of a Craigslist scam artist.
In the end, I knew enough not to fall for it, but the experience was interesting-and I figured if I got this close to it, maybe others are at risk.
Here’s what happened.
I posted an ad to sell a Kindle because I got another one for Christmas. I got a text asking me to email additional photos of the item, which I did. All this seemed pretty normal, although I do have to admit that this is only my third time selling anything on Craigslist.
Then things started getting weird.
The email correspondence came from a person using the name Tony Bruce. He said he couldn’t come and look at the item because of his business, but he wanted me to consider it sold. His email style and punctuation were odd, and what he was asking seemed strange.
He wrote: “You don’t need to bother yourself with the shipment, I’ll take care of that by engaging the services of a mover, hence I’ll be sending a certified check payment and it will be delivered to you via USPS, so I’ll need you to provide me with the following information to facilitate the mailing of the check.”
Red flags everywhere, right?
But he wasn’t asking for any information that most people can’t find about me online-name, business address, cellphone number in case there’s a problem. He wasn’t asking me to meet him in a dark alley. He wasn’t asking for my Social Security number.
So I went ahead and gave him that information but explained that I didn’t really understand what he meant by “mover.” I asked more questions but didn’t get a solid response.
More red flags.
He went on to say that he would send me a check for more than he owed me for the Kindle and asked me to use MoneyGram to send the rest of the money to a person named Felix Johnson in Baltimore.
This is when I knew it was definitely a scam.
But it was already in motion. He’d already put the check in the mail, so I didn’t reply. I just waited to see what would happen.
“Tony” included a USPS tracking number, which indicated that he was sending the check from California.
A reverse phone number search linked the number “Tony” texted me from to somewhere in Utah.
So Wednesday, I got a check for $1,342. Even though I was sure it was a scam, the large amount made it ridiculously obvious.
The envelope the check came in had been mailed from the University of Texas at Dallas, according to the postage label. And the check had the business name Tepeyac Title & Settlement LLC.
Of course there’s no way I was having anything to do with cashing this check, but I was curious.
So I called Kevin Walters, the communications director for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance. I often get press releases about scams from the consumer affairs portion of that department.
I gave him all the information so he could log it, and he said his office would pass that information along to the Federal Trade Commission.
Walters said there are variations of these scams and that the scenario I presented was “very common.”
“Most people go on in their daily lives thinking people aren’t going to take advantage of them,” he also said.
The check is fraudulent, and if I had attempted to cash it, I would be responsible for it and lose money.
My co-worker Sean Phipps found this article, which detailed a similar scam.
Another article explained that after a person has sent the extra funds, “weeks later, the MoneyGram or check would be returned by the victim’s bank as being fraudulent, leaving the victim responsible for the full amount of money order lost.”
That is basically what Walters said to me when I spoke to him about my situation.
I also called Tepeyac Title & Settlement LLC to see if they were aware that their business name is being used in a scam.
An employee there said that they have been getting calls since last Friday. She said that because they are a title and settlement company, they do mail out a lot of checks and anyone could see one, even a voided one, and get the information to use.
I searched my own email and found a news release from the Tennessee Department of Treasury that warned of a similar scam. In that instance, scammers received numerous reports of fraudulent activity involving checks that appeared to be from the “state of Tennessee,” “Tennessee state treasury” or something similar.
“These fraudulent checks are being used in various schemes to defraud the people who cash the checks by encouraging them to send some portion of the funds to the criminal or criminals who sent the checks,” according to the release from 2013.
In another attempt to confirm this was a scam, I called the number that had texted me and got a message that said, “Congratulations! Just for calling in today, you’re going to the Bahamas!”
I should have read more about Craigslist before selling something, although I’ve had two experiences that were ideal. But the platform’s leaders do detail tips about how to avoid scams.
Of course I read this after my situation. But being asked to wire money is a huge signal that something’s not quite right.
If I hadn’t been aware from the beginning that the situation was strange, I would feel foolish about even communicating with this person, and I do feel that a little, anyway.
Thankfully, I knew enough to avoid a problem in the end. I hope this helps other people do the same.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.