We are at a point where many know at least one person that was the target or victim of internet crime. According to the FBI / IC3 (Internet Crime) teams the 2012 numbers were over 1/2 Billion in US$ were stolen through an internet or mail fraud/scam. The problem is, the scams are coming in many forms and they're getting harder to spot. The way these scams play out can be surprising so take heed and read on if you have just a few minutes.
"1.5 Billion in US% Stolen in 2012 Alone" Source: Wikipedia
The particular scam we are experiences presently with my business involves a suspect (scammer) and a target which so far has included hundreds, if not, thousands of unsuspecting Avon representatives. Avon the Corporation is in no way involved with this scam. Here's how this scam goes down.
Avon representative (independent contractor) receives an electronic message via their independent (localized) Avon website where they are able to sell Avon products to customers. Via email, client places order for approximately $234 in product that will be picked up from the Avon representative when they arrive in town on so and so date. So far so good, right?
Confirmation that a check has been sent is delivered via email by the perpetrator. Building credibility and trust with the victim is key. Notice how the perps are stoking more trust with the the targets through references and the possibility of more clients coming their way.
Check is sent to the Avon representative in the amount of approximately $1700-1800 US dollars. Check may be from a business or credit union. In my case, Brett Werner Photography was used on the envelop as the FROM. Check is obviously almost 10X the amount it's supposed to be and here's where the hook is set.
Perpetrator hopes that Avon rep deposits check in bank using ATM. Many banks seem to catch the fraud if the check is cashed at a teller. But there is no guarantee here. If you are suspicious of a check, ask the teller to look into it. Upon making a check deposit one can typically withdraw up to $300 or sometimes $500 in immediate cash from the check. Banks vary so this is case by case, and some banks may have security precautions in place to stop this from happening.
Next the Avon rep receives message alerting that the check was mistakenly made in an amount over the value of the order ($1800). The extra money (over the $234 in product) in the amount of approximately $1,500 is needed for a friend or for some other reason and needs to be sent via Western Union or another electronic payment method. This request is often accompanied with an urgent need, a friend in the hospital, a train ticket that is required immediately, etc. It's going to play on your heart, so be ready.
Immediately following the arrival of the check, the targeted rep may get heavy pressure from suspect to return the money, often times asking for immediate payment via telephone, email, etc. I am assuming that sometimes, a kind person may give their own money to these perps out of kindness, assuming the funds will be in their accounts anyways. Then when the bank sees that the check is bad, the targeted individual may be on the hook.
"If it doesn't seem right, don't cash it" - OC Sheriff's Deparment
The key here, as I was told by the Sheriff's department years ago, ...."If it doesn't seem right, don't cash it." That is my advice to you. If you do not know what it is, or why you are receiving it, cashing a check of unknown origin can be a huge problem for you. Even if you run a small business and the customer's business name and story seems legitimate.
In this case, these guys had the story down. Just this week the calls are coming in from Texas. The perpetrator uses a real-life scenario to pull off the scam and introduces a number of facts and details that make it all see so real and so easy to want to help these scammers. Today's example was a makeup artist posing as a person traveling from Texas to Indiana for a makeup event. The check they sent to the Avon rep was an accident and they desperately need to get that money back to the people that need it to get their flight in time for the event. They use my name to make it legitimate I suppose, connecting photography and makeup. It almost seems too hard to not believe. But it's not true, it's a scam. If it's not someone you know, you are probably the victim of a scam. No matter how real it seems.
As a wedding photographer, we are also victims to this scam on a regular basis. The client sends a check for more than the required amount and wants me to share part of it with someone. In my case they called me and tried to shake me down, thick accents of course so I don't think they were US-based. There is never a reason to send you more money than is needed. There is never a good reason to pass money on behalf of one person to another anyways. It's common sense, but that can be stifled by the temptation to make a deposit that instantly puts almost $2,000 into your account. I find when this has happened, the perps almost always want to work outside of the normal systems of communication. Text is preferred. So if you are able to shift clients to use protected and safe systems and processes like the Avon.com website, you can know that the processes and payments are at least protected to the fullest extent possible. Taking checks of unknown origin, well that's risky. And if you are going to take a check, for Pete's sake, wait till it's cashed and under no circumstances front any portion for any reason.
Here's one more thing, and maybe the most important rule of all: Never accept payment for more than you are supposed to receive. Especially when the amount if significant (2-10X) what it is supposed to be. In my opinion, 99.999999% of the time, you are being scammed. If you are a small business or independent contractor, just use the excuse that it's your policy not to accept payment for more than is appropriate. It's probably the law anyways, check with your local state and local law enforcement on that one.
In this case, there is little anyone can do on a major scale to catch these guys. It's too easy to hide, too easy to do this from halfway across the globe with only a computer screen. I have contacted the FBI, Avon, and have a report I will submit to the IC3.gov site but otherwise we are going to have to do our own diligence in these situations to stay away from these scams. I hope this information helps and I invite anyone that can add subject matter to this discussion so we can prevent more of this from happening.
DISCLAIMER: This article is in no way legal advice. It is simply for the purpose of making others aware that this scam exists and the be careful. Nobody at Avon has anything to do with this scam other than serving as the target. Brett Werner Photography is in no way connected to these scammers. If you think you are the target of one of these scams, I suggest you go to ic3.gov for more information and submit a report.
If you want to send me an email on this blog post, please write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org