Scammer targets local man

Published 4:26 pm Friday, July 27, 2007

Classified ads are a good way to sell unwanted merchandise, but they could be a good place for scammers to find their next victim.
Cliff Cuevas was almost the victim of a scam while he was attempting to sell a kitchen table for about $200 with a classified ad. After placing the ad, he received a phone call on July 13 from an individual who claimed to be deaf and was using an operator as an interpreter. The caller expressed interest in purchasing the table, but there was a catch. Cuevas was told he would be sent a check for more than the amount of the table, and he said he was asked to send back the remaining balance.
The buyer claimed that the extra money would be for the private movers whom the buyer was sending to pick up the table. Cuevas at first thought the extra amount would be about $100, until he got the check in the mail four days later.
“I was pretty dumbstruck when I found a business check in there for $3,500,” Cuevas said.
Between the phone call and receiving the check the buyer, referred to as “Thomas Smith,” and Cuevas stayed in touch via e-mail. When Cuevas got the check he said he e-mailed Smith and told him there must have been a mistake. Smith responded that there was not a mistake and instructed Cuevas to cash the check, take out what he needed for the table, and send the rest via a Western Union money order to the shippers who Smith said would pick up the table.
In those e-mails, written in poor grammar, Smith pushed Cuevas to act promptly. Smith said he trusted Cuevas and complimented him on his intelligence, always asking for prompt responses and hurried execution to “return” the funds. Cuevas said it was like Smith was trying to push a panic button to get the money out of his hands.
Cuevas demonstrated the intelligence Smith described in the e-mails by suspecting something was amiss with the check and called the Picayune Police Department and the bank and business listed on the check. When he got in contact with the business, he was told that he was the eighth person to call about such incidents recently and while the check had the company’s information on it, the company did not send it. After officers got some information on the scam, they suggested he send an e-mail stating he tried to cash the check and the bank found it to be an illegitimate check, Cuevas said.
Smith responded with an apology and then asked him if he lived alone, had a laser printer and lived near a Wal-Mart or Target. It appeared to be an attempt to get Cuevas involved in Smith’s “business.”
Picayune police Capt. Lawrence Krantz said that once they determined they could do little to help him, they referred Cuevas to the Postal Inspector since the fraud involved use of the Internet and mail.
Frauds such as these tend to target the elderly, Krantz said. Cuevas said he is living with his grandfather and suspects the scammers figured him to be elderly.
In some cases the targeted victim may receive an e-mail or phone call asking for the target’s personal information, claiming to be a bank that the target may have an account with. Such attempts to gain personal information are always a scam. Krantz said banks or financial institutions already have clients’ personal information and will never call to ask for it. If in doubt, contact a local law enforcement agency and have them look into it, he said.
“We’d rather come out there and look at it than them get (scammed) out of something,” Krantz said. “It really is too good to be true.”
The Federal Trade Commission suggests that if a buyer or caller asks for a rushed decision, it is a scam. Legitimate business calls always provide sufficient time to make decisions. Offers that ask to pay for a prize or gift also are scams. Free is free, as are gifts. If a prospective buyer of a solicited item insists on using a check for any item, ask them to use a local bank with a local branch or to provide the number of the issuing bank so the validity of the check can be confirmed, according to the FTC.
Krantz said every three months he checks his credit to see if there is any unusual activity, such as purchases he did not make.
If anyone believes they are being scammed, he or she can call the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Atlanta at 877-876-2455 or visit the webpage for additional contact avenues at http://www.usps.com/postalinspectors/fraud/ContactUs.htm.