You can Scam but You Cannot Hide.
One of our longtime clients and friends was recently the victim of a “purchase” on Craigslist. While we initially meet most of our clients as victims, this victim was a very careful man who regularly used our services to vet people he did business with.
The advertisement he responded to was for tickets to a basketball game. His son was making the purchase, and he correctly pointed out to his son many of the landmines involved in making a purchase through Craigslist. He instructed him to verify the identity of the seller, not to send funds to an unverified address, and not to send funds that could not be traced.
The dilemma was that the seller needed to verify funds before sending the tickets, and the tickets would have to be sent by FedEx to arrive in time for the game. The seller stated that the only way he could do this was if the buyer sent funds by MoneyGram that day, so that he could then send the tickets by FedEx. The transaction was for $400.
The son decided to do his own research. The seller gave him his name, phone number, and address. Using Internet searches, the son was able to confirm the phone number with the name he was given, and to confirm the name with the address. Based upon that information, he sent a MoneyGram for $400.
The money was picked up, the tickets never arrived, and that was the last contact they had with the seller.
Where did he make his mistake? He had verified the name with the phone and the name with the address, but not the address with the phone. The person living at that address had the correct name, but was not involved in the transaction and was not connected to the sellers phone number. With the proliferation of VOIP phones and cell phones, fraudsters can buy phone numbers online using any name they want (so can you), they can get numbers in any area code they want, and they can do this for only a few dollars. A name identified with a phone number is almost meaningless. The buyer actually had time to send a round trip FedEx, but chose to send the MoneyGram as the seller requested. A MoneyGram, like most Western Union transactions, is difficult or impossible to trace.
As I said in the beginning, we meet most of our clients as victims. This was an exception, but in the end he did call us. It wasn’t the $400 that had him upset; it was the principle of the fraud. We did find the perpetrator, and the information was turned over to the authorities. Not exactly a happy ending, but there is some comfort in getting an amateur fraudster off the street. Remember that the fraudsters do this for a living, and they’ve had a lot of time to think about it. Internet searches generally return a lot more static than information – don’t rely on them, check them.