FBI alerts Nevadans to Internet 'shipping' scam

Nevada residents are among those nationwide falling victim to a counterfeit cashier check scam that already has resulted in losses of more than $1 million, according to FBI Special Agent in Charge Ellen B. Knowlton.

The scam targets individuals who post online classified advertisements on Web sites such as AutoTrader.com and Craigslist.org to sell merchandise.

According to Knowlton, the scam works this way:

Typically the seller of an item will receive an e-mail from a person who claims to be acting as an agent for an international buyer. The agent and seller come to an agreement on price through e-mail. The agent will propose that the transaction be carried out by using a cashier's check and will tell the seller that he is going to send a check for an amount larger than the agreed-upon price.

This overpayment is to pay a "shipper," who is to pick up the item sold and deliver it to the international buyer.

The seller is asked to deposit the check and then to transfer the overpayment amount to the shipper. In many cases, the agent instructs the buyer to transfer the money through Western Union.

Because a cashier's check is used in the original transaction, a bank will typically release the funds immediately as a customer courtesy.

Falsely believing that the check has cleared, the seller will transfer the money to the shipper.

Shortly thereafter, the bank will discover that the cashier's check is fraudulent and then will hold the seller responsible for the full amount of the check plus any processing fees.

Sellers should be cautious when someone wants to pay more than the agreed-upon amount for an item and the asks that the overpayment be wired to a third party, Knowlton warned.

Anyone conducting transactions such as these should be aware that the clearing of a cashier's check could take as long as two weeks. Even if the bank immediately cashes the check and deposits the money into the customer's account, if the check eventually is found to be fraudulent, the customer is responsible for the loss to the bank.

Anyone who has been victimized by a scam such as this should immediately report it to the FBI by completing an online fraud complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.


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