My First Scam Story

Sometimes, I think back on the very first scam that touched my life. It was maybe ten years ago and my stepson – we’ll call him Johnny – wanted to sell an old set of electronic drum cymbals online. He was so excited because within just a few hours of posting his ad, he received an offer to buy them for the $300 he was asking.

That is where the trouble started.

Within just a few days, he received a check in the mail for not $300, but $1200. Being an honest kid, he sent a text to the buyer to let him now that a check had been sent for the wrong amount.

“Oh thank you so much for your honesty,” came the reply. “That check was sent by accident. Let’s do this; here are the instructions to wire money through Western Union. Please keep your $300, plus an extra $100 for your trouble, and wire us the $800 difference.”

Johnny was excited that he was both selling his cymbals and getting an extra $100 for very little effort. The only hitch was that he really did not know how to wire money. So he called his mother. Thank goodness.

Johnny’s mother smelled a rat and suggested he bring the check over to our house so we could take a closer look. If nothing was wrong with it, then we would help him wire the money and all would be well.

At first glance, the check looked real. But the more I looked at it, the more I realized that there were little things wrong with it. There was something a little bit not right about the signature; the address of the bank seemed a little odd; and there were a couple of other details that were just slightly off.

I did a quick Web search for the routing number to make sure it matched the bank name, and it did. Then I called the bank to check on the account number and they told me that it was not one they had at their bank. If Johnny managed to get his bank to cash the check, it would be rejected when the bank listed on the check received it. Once that happened, Johnny’s bank would come back to him to reclaim their money, and he would be out most of the money because he would have wired it to the “buyer” of his cymbals. Plus, he would have mailed the cymbals, so he would probably have lost them, too.

Thankfully – since Johnny did not know how to wire money and asked his mother about it – we caught the scam in time and nobody actually lost any money. Now that I work with Better Business Bureau, I understand that this is actually a very common type of scam, happening all over the country, basically all the time.

Probably the most important lessons to take away from this story are these:

  • Be wary of any opportunity that seems too good to be true.
  • If someone you do not know wants you to wire them money, it should be a huge red flag because wired money is almost impossible to recover; this is a common request of scammers.
  • If your gut tells you something might be wrong, listen! Either walk away or, at least, look into things more closely.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help. Another set of eyes on a situation can be very helpful.