Online check scams target thousands of internet merchants

8:12 AM, Aug 15, 2012   |    comments
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NBC - Selling your stuff online is an easy way to get rid of things you don't want, but it's also the place frequented by scam artists.

The Federal Trade Commission says it received more than 43,000 complaints about check scams just last year, and online sellers get duped every day.

"I buy and sell all the time," said Michael Raddatz, an online seller.

Raddatz turns to websites like eBay and Craigslist when he wants to get rid of something or he's looking for something to buy.

"Ninety-nine percent of the people are honest and forth right," Raddatz said. "Unfortunately, the reason we're talking is there's several people out there that are trying to take advantage of people's good nature. I've been the attempted victim of two scams."

The first time Raddatz was trying to sell ten sets of French door locks. He posted his ad on eBay and he got a bite.

"I'm contacted by a buyer who says they want all ten locks and they're going to send me a check," Raddatz said.

Raddatz wanted $500 for the locks; but when the check came, it was made out for $2,980. Nearly six times more than Raddatz was asking.

"What he wanted me to do was to cash the check," Raddatz said, "take the money out for the locks and shipment, box all the material up, and mail it to him along with the balance of the cash, which he wanted me to wire back to him."

But Raddatz was suspicious and so he told his bank the thought the check was a fake.

"And three days later it did come back as fraudulent," he said.

"This is the kind of scheme that very smart people fall for. We get thousands of complaints about this every year," said Charles Harwood, deputy director for the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission.

"It's very likely you will not be able to tell a counterfeit check from a real check when you see it, nor will your bank be able to tell the counterfeit check from a real check."

It can take up to 4 weeks for a check to fully clear, but law requires banks to credit you the money quicker. And that's the catch: if you deposit a phony check and wire the extra back to the sender, it will ultimately hurt you.

"When the bank discovers that that check is fake, they're going to come back to you and insist that you make good on the money," Harwood said.

The FTC says it is continuously working with law enforcement to stop such scams, but adds this kind of scam is hard to eliminate.

If you think you've received a bogus check or have fallen victim to an online buyer, file a complaint with the FTC or your local attorney general's office.


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