Scam alert: Expect that too-big check to bounce
(Photo: Ilustration by Rick Nease/Detroit Free Press,)
(USATODAY.com) - Rachael Kruys has been selling Avon products long enough to know that if someone e-mails her with an offer to spend $600 out of the blue, maybe claiming to be a modeling agency, watch out.
Kruys, who owns an Avon shop in Hudsonville, Mich., said the supposed buyer may claim he or she cannot shop online for some reason, maybe they don't have a credit card, so they need to send a check.
Get ready for the old fake check scam. Sales consultants associated with popular companies, such as Avon, Thirty-One Gifts and Lia Sophia, are being targeted by scam artists who send extra-large checks - amounts that exceed the cost of what's being bought - and then ask that the extra money be wired back to them. Anyone who falls for it could easily lose $1,000 or $2,000.
"The usual tag line is 'Buyer Beware.' Here it's 'Seller Beware,'" said Melanie Duquesnel, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving eastern Michigan.
Duquesnel said the con artists can go on the Internet looking for sellers of a given product. Maybe the scammer spots contact information in Avon catalogs stacked in a lobby.
The Better Business Bureau sent out its warning because there is a concern that many consultants could be younger moms or dads trying to make ends meet and too eager to make a big sale.
Such scams, of course, can hit anyone trying to sell anything online. One co-worker said he put a dining room hutch up for sale on Craigslist for $600. A scam artist sent a check for $2,750 and then sent a text message with details of where to wire the balance. The co-worker didn't fall for it. The phone number on that check was a good clue: 111-111-1111.
John Breyault, director of Fraud.org, said fake check scams continue to be a top area for complaints at his site. The average loss reported by consumers who voluntarily contact the site is more than $2,400.
A Lansing woman who advertised a violin for sale on a newspaper's online classified section ended up being ripped off, Breyault said. She was contacted via text message with an offer. The check that arrived exceeded the cost of the violin by $1,000.
The scammer told her the extra money was to cover shipping costs and that she should wire the money to a friend in Alabama. She cashed the check and wired the money. The bank later notified her that the check was fraudulent, and she ended us losing more than $1,800 due to negative balance fees and wire transfer fees.
It's almost always a scam if a seller is being asked to wire extra money back via Western Union or MoneyGram or maybe put money on a loadable prepaid card.
Sending back money for some reason to the buyer is the biggest red flag, Breyault said.
MoneyGram notes on its website: "Get a check or money order in the mail with instructions to first cash it at your bank and then send some of the funds to someone else through a MoneyGram money transfer? If so, the check/money order is counterfeit and your bank will make you cover the loss."
Amanda Clark, 26, has been selling purses, totes and other items for Thirty-One Gifts for more than a year to make extra money. The Eastpointe, Mich., mom is time-stretched to say the least.
Clark works full time at another job as a sales rep. She has two sons - 3 months and 2½ years old.
She suspected things weren't right when a woman who claimed to be deaf and didn't have a credit card wanted to buy a wedding gift for her granddaughter. But, Clark admits, she also wanted to think the best of someone.
"You know some people don't have credit cards," Clark said.
So she took an order for $190 of goods, a sizable order when some purses can cost $35 or $45.
But soon the woman said a mistake was made and a check for $2,209 was sent out by someone's secretary. The woman asks Clark as a favor to send more than $2,000 via Western Union to some event planner to cover another bill.
Clark said she's busy, but not too busy to check things out before sending products or wiring money.
She e-mailed other consultants on Facebook to ask about their experiences. She called the bank that issued the check once she received it in the mail and, she said, the banking representative told her that was the fourth call received with a similar story.
Clark did not wire any money and had waited to send the products until she had the money in hand.
The scam artists are savvy, she said.
"They try to guilt you into feeling bad about them," Clark said.