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Widespread Scam Targets CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass

- Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com
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Investigator Brian Maass

DENVER (CBS4) – I just wanted to sell a couple of used kids bikes on Craigslist for $35 apiece. Little did I know the ad would lead to a 6-week online scam attempt, the type of hustle that has defrauded many Americans out of billions of dollars.

“We want people to know, don’t fall victim to this sort of activity,” said Dave Joly, a spokesperson for the FBI office in Denver. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

I placed the Craigslist ad in September for the kids bikes. Almost immediately I got an email from an “Ander Joeson,” who said he wanted the bikes. “Please do consider it sold,” he wrote and asked that I remove the ad so nobody else could buy the bikes.

He wrote that, “I’m buying this for my stepchild as a gift … I will be paying you via cashier’s check because its attached to my bank account and its safe and very secure way to make payment. As I’m currently away on business trip and I will be adding an extra $50 to the asking price so you could have the ad deleted off Craigslist and consider it sold to me please.”

CBS4 Investigator Brian Mass

CBS4 Investigator Brian Mass opening an envelope containing a large check as part of the scam (credit: CBS)

He wrote that he would have a “shipper” come to me to pick up the bikes as soon as I had received his check and cashed it.

My hopes of selling the bikes gave way to the realization it was yet another online scam, frequently referred to as a “Nigerian” or “419” scam. I figured if I could at least waste his time I could perhaps prevent him from scamming someone else who would fall for the old trick.

I later emailed him that the price had increased from $70 for the two old bikes to $500 just to see if he was even paying attention. No problem, he indicated. The check was on the way. He never responded to my requests to send a photo of his stepchild so I could see who would be getting the bicycles.

All he was worried about was me receiving his check, cashing it, deducting what I was owed plus the extra $50, and then wiring the balance of the money back to him via Western Union. He said that was needed as his shipper would be needing the excess funds to cover packing and transit insurance and some other logistics.

“You’re done. Once that money leaves and you have made that transaction you are never going to see that money again,” said Joly.

As I kept emailing back and forth with “Ander” he seemed to become confused, writing at one point that I needed to expedite the deal because his grandchild was anxious to get the bikes. Remember, he initially wrote that they were for his stepchild.

Eventually he sent a personal check drawn on a bank in Columbus, Ga. The check was made out for a whopping $1,950. That was far more than the initial $70 asking price. I contacted the bank about the check and they told me the check was not legitimate and that they had received a number of inquiries about checks like this that were fraudulent.

The FBI spokesperson examined the check and marveled at how authentic it appeared to be.

“I wouldn’t question it,” said Joly. “Unfortunately because people are on hard times they are looking for a quick fix to make extra cash and they allow themselves to be victimized.”

Via email I eventually let “Ander” know I was a news reporter in Denver and was going to be doing a story on his attempted fraud. He never emailed back.

The FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center maintain a website at http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx so consumers can report these scams. Joly says the site records about 300,000 complaints a year with people losing millions of dollars to these sorts of scams. Joly said the numbers are likely much higher, but many people are too embarrassed to report they fell for this type of swindle.

“The Internet has become the new way to scam people out of their hard-earned money,” said Joly. “It’s a growth industry and a huge part of what the FBI encounters in the cyber world.”

Joly suggests if you receive any sort of email resembling this “advance payment” scam, hit the delete button and move on.

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