Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Internet Fraud

You know what they say, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Frankly, I think “probably” is an understatement.

IF IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT ALMOST DEFINITELY IS!

There’s a heck of a lot of scammers out there. Police forces have whole task groups devoted to combating those who use the phone and the internet to rip people off, and I get to see some of the emotional and financial wreckage these creeps leave behind.

One scam making the rounds lately is an internet work-at-home “opportunity” that preys upon unsophisticated job-seekers looking to make some extra money.

Here’s how it works. The scammer uses the internet to find the victim through resume-posting websites. He then sends the victim an email posing as a prospective employer. Often he uses the name of a real company (without their knowledge, of course). He says that he represents a foreign company that needs a local representative to process cheque payments from the victim’s area, and forward the proceeds to the company’s home country. The victim is told that he or she gets to keep a percentage of the payments, usually five or ten percent.

Five or ten percent of thousands of dollars to cash cheques? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

The victim receives what appears to be a valid cashier’s cheque, maybe about $15,000. In accordance with the scammer’s instructions, the victim deposits it in his or her bank account, keeps 10% for him or herself, and transfers 90% percent of it by a wire transfer service, such as Western Union, to location chosen by the scammer.

So far so good, but then a few days later, the victim gets a call from his or her bank, who has by now figured out that the cheque is a forgery. The bank has reduced the victim’s account balance to zero in order to recover its losses. Not only that, but both the bank and the police want to ask some questions about how and why he or she passed a forged cheque.

Awkward, eh? Generally, the victim can convince the bank and the police that he or she wasn’t in on the scam, but even so, the bank may garnish any account the victim has with them, and may also sue to recover the balance.

Most people could probably spot this scam, not because they know anything about international finance (I certainly don’t), but simply by stopping for a minute and asking themselves: does it really make sense that a legitimate international business would pay me, a person they have never met, thousands of dollars just to cash a few cheques?

Unfortunately, a scammer usually has a way with words and gets some people so excited about the money that they forget about common sense. So just remember:

IF IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT ALMOST DEFINITELY IS!

And if someone approaches you with a suspicious scheme, check it out with the police before you get involved. You can contact your local police department, or “Phonebusters,” a Canada-wide law enforcement task force dedicated to combating internet and telephone fraud. Their toll-free number is 1-888-495-8501. You can also get in touch with them through their website at: http://www.phonebusters.com, which also has much more information on how to stop protect yourself and others from fraudulent schemes like this one.

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