LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Online want-ads may be the modern way to buy and sell, but a local couple learned it brings out the Internet scammers. Luckily the local couple did not fall for the swindle.
Stephanie and Stacey Fontenot thought they had a buyer on Craig's list for their air conditioner for which they wanted $200. But they soon found they were targets of a check fraud scheme. They received a check in the mail. "In our case a check for $1800 and then they're going to take it and say that they want you to cash it and Western Union them back the extra amount of money. We would be keeping $250 and they would be taking about $1600 back," explained Stephanie. Her husband Stacey said, "One of the first alerts we saw was that the check was way beyond what we were asking for the air conditioner."
The swindlers, who the Fontenots believe are in a foreign country, but using local numbers, are persistent-- bombarding them with texts, emails and calls. Stephanie attempts to call the man she's been dealing with to demonstrate. It's hard to understand some of his words. She asks, "You what?" The foreign sounding man replies, "You receive ten per cent to cash...go to Walmart to exchange the check for cash." Stephanie told him, "The bank already has it. I can't take the check back." At that point the foreigner hangs up.
The $1800 check is on a real account of an Indiana University. And if the Fontenots had fallen for it they could be out double. "Some people have actually fallen for it and sent them the money back and then they're liable for that $1800 plus the $1600 that they've now lost," said Fontenot.
The Fontenots filed an online complaint of Internet crime and spoke to local authorities. They wish more could be done. Explained Stacey, "They said it's hard for them to get their finger on it because these people change who the checks are coming from. Today it's Trine University. Tomorrow it might be another university. They also said that they didn't have jurisdiction in the Middle East and they would have to have other countries participation to actually stop this problem."
Authorities say it's almost impossible to successfully prosecute such cases. The Fontenots say they plan to sell their stuff the old fashioned way locally.
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For more information on the check scam and how not to become a victim check out these tips from the local Better Business Bureau.
Tips from your Better Business Bureau
Web sites like Craig's list and other online classified advertising web sites have made it much easier to buy and sell items such as exercise equipment, jewelry, automobiles and even houses.
Unfortunately, it is also a place where scammers search for possible victims. What can you do to defend yourself against the scammers on Craigslist?
• Deal locally with folks you can meet in person. Follow this one rule and avoid 99 percent of scam attempts on Craigslist.
• Never wire funds via Western Union, Money gram or any other wire service.
• Fake cashier checks and money orders are common, and banks will cash them and then hold you responsible when the fake is discovered weeks later.
• Craigslist is not involved in any transaction, and does not handle payments, guarantee transactions, provide escrow services, or offer "buyer protection" or "seller certification"
• Never give out financial information (bank account number, social security number, eBay/PayPal info, etc.)
• Avoid deals involving shipping or escrow services and know that only a scammer will "guarantee" your transaction.
• Do not rent housing without seeing the interior, or purchase expensive items sight-unseen. In all likelihood, that housing unit is not actually for rent, and that cheap item does not exist.
• Do not submit to credit checks or background checks for a job or for housing until you have met the interviewer or landlord/agent in person.
The buyer wants them to cash the check, keep $200 and then send the rest of the cash back.
The Fontenots made a smart decision and reported it to the Better Business Bureau and ic3.gov. They also talked to local FBI who advised them these perpetrators are usually in the middle east and almost impossible to prosecute.
They now know if they had cashed the $1800 check they would likely lose that money.
The Fontenots are sharing the paperwork with us and helping to make sure others don't fall for it.