What Many Scams Have in Common

Here are brief descriptions of a few common scams that continue to circulate. See if you can find the common element.

Mystery Shopper: you are “hired” via email as a mystery shopper and sent a cashier’s check for several thousand dollars. You are instructed to cash the check, then immediately wire most of the funds back to the sender, allegedly to report on the service at the Western Union location. A few days later, the check is found to be counterfeit and you are on the hook for the funds you already sent.

Overpayment: you list an item for sale on a classifieds website such as Craigslist. Someone contacts you from out of state, wishing to purchase the item by sending you a cashier’s check to cover the price and the shipping. When you get the check, it is for several thousand dollars over the amount agreed upon, and when you contact the buyer about the discrepancy, you are told that it’s okay, just wire the difference back to him. Later, the check is revealed to be fraudulent, and you find yourself owing your financial provider a lot of money.

Romance: you make a connection with a person who lives overseas and wants very badly to come to the U.S. to visit, or even live permanently. They make plans to do so, but an endless series of roadblocks suddenly appear, all of which can be cleared up by you sending money to the other person by wire transfer. When you get to the point where you have no more money left to send, your love connection disappears from the face of the earth.

Did you notice the pattern? In all three cases, the victim is wiring money to someone they do not know and cannot see in person. Even in the case of the Romance scam, the victim is wiring money to someone they have never met, and whom they only know through an online presence that can be easily faked.

Wire transfers are notorious for being used in countless variations of different scams because they are hard to trace and non-reversible; once the scammer has your money in hand, it’s all over. There are plenty of legitimate uses for this method of moving money, but any time someone you don’t know is asking you to wire funds to them, the odds are overwhelming that you are dealing with a con artist.