Unfolding of a Scam

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When my mom passed away several years ago, I inherited two cemetery plots at the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.  I’ve been trying to sell them (with no success) on Craig’s List for the past few years.  Recently, I renewed the ad and within a few days, I got contacted by an individual who expressed interest in purchasing the plots.  He sent the email through the Craig’s List email service, which hides the sender and recipient emails (for obvious privacy reasons).

Tue, May 30, 2017 at 2:54 PM, Mike Jones <8f5d572a1cec3fa5b4dbc4a7c8128351@reply.craigslist.org> wrote:

Hello, In regards to your ad do you still have the Lot for sale? What the actual price you sell to me?
Mike

I promptly responded:

Tue, May 30, 2017 at 8:16 PM, craigslist 6144560372 <jxn2c-6144560372@sale.craigslist.org> wrote:

Yes, they are still for sale.  I’m asking $5,000 for both, but would negotiate a little bit.

This email exchange wasn’t unusual, and I’ve probably answered a dozen emails like this over the past few years.  Usually I never hear back from the person.  Surprisingly, “Mike” responded back shortly.

On Tue, May 30, 2017 at 16:42 Mike Jones <8f5d572a1cec3fa5b4dbc4a7c8128351@reply.craigslist.org> wrote:

Hi,your email is encrypted by craigslist. Please Provide me with your email address so we email directly. Thanks Mike

My initial thought was, this guy doesn’t understand what “encryption” is.  I figured “what the hey” and responded with my actual Gmail address.  I got another email within a couple of hours:

On Tue, May 30, 2017 at 17:23 Mike Jones <elevatedkingforever@gmail.com> wrote:

Thanks for your email,we are in need of the lot for the burial of my father who we lost in England United Kingdom recently, so we decided to bring him for final rest back home here in the state. I will pay your asking price of $5000 and My means of  payment is via cashier check.  As soon as the check clear in your bank account, then I will bring in the Corpse for the burial and exchange of deed for Approval to Transfer Cemetery Property to our family. 

Send me the details below for the check to be mail out if the procedure is Ok by you. 

Name:
Address:
City:
Zip-Code:
Country:
The land Square meter:
Landscape area:
Location of the Cemetery:
Cell phone: 

I will be waiting for your quick response
Thanks..
Mike 

Hopefully, you can see how this response immediately got my radar up.  An individual, who claims to have lost his father in the UK wants to bury him in a cemetery in Nashville, TN, and pay via a cashiers check.  His English is really bad, so he’s obviously a foreigner.  And he’s willing to pay full price for two plots with no negotiation when he only needs one.  Ok, it’s possible this not a scam.  But not likely.  I’ll play along.  I decided to ask a question to see if this guy was legit.

On Tue, May 30, 2017 at 6:15 PM, Stuart Smith <stuartsmith06@gmail.com> wrote:

To be clear this is for two plots. $5,000 for both.  The cemetery location details are in the Craig’s List add.  I have no idea what the land square meter is or the landscape area.

My new friend responded the next day:

On Wed, May 31, 2017 at 14:02 Mike Jones <elevatedkingforever@gmail.com> wrote:

Thanks for your email. the price is okay by me. Provide me with your full names,address and telephone number for making the check payable and mailed out to you

Thanks
Mike

Yeah, this is a scam.  But I decided continue with this and see how far “Mike” wants to go.  So I sent him my mailing address at work (not my home address, and I didn’t include my phone number).  Things started getting really interesting at this point.  My prospective buyer responded:

On Wed, May 31, 2017 at 15:25 Mike Jones <elevatedkingforever@gmail.com> wrote:

Thanks so much for your email and the address sent to me.The check of $7,900 has been mailed out to you. Do please bear with me with this My client owing me mail out the check of all the total is was owing me.Once you get the check do take it to your bank and have deposited and it will clear the next day.  Once it clears do deduct the amount for the lot which is $5,000 and deduct additional $100 for your running expenses and wire the rest of the fund to casket man details i will provide you once you have the fund.

Do i entrust you with the wiring of the differences to my casket man?

Awaiting your email asap. Thanks for your understanding.

NB, PLEASE PROVIDE ME WITH YOUR PHONE NUMBER.

Mike

When I read this, I thought, “What the heck is a ‘casket man’”?  I guess the guy who is providing the casket for the “Corpse” of his father?  For those of you who may not be familiar with this type of scam, here’s how it works:

The buyer expresses interest in whatever you’re selling, and says he’ll pay your asking price.  He sends you a check for more than what you’re selling the thing for, but he asks you to wire the difference back to him (or in this case, his ‘casket man’.)  There are various reasons/excuses the scammers will offer for this when questioned.  Here, “Mike” even provided an explanation up front when he wrote, “My client owing me mail out the check of all the total is was owing me” [Translation: I have client who owes me money.  He mailed me a check for the total he owes, I will send that to you.]  In this case, he even threw in an extra $100 bucks to sweeten the deal for me for my “running expenses”.

The scam happens when he insists that you wire him the extra funds immediately, or the day after you deposit the check.  The problem is, the check is bad!  It will bounce, but that may take a couple of days.  You wire the money for the difference, thinking you’re keeping the balance of the sale price.  The scammer gets money from you, and then the check bounces and you’re out (at least) the money you wired to this criminal, plus a returned check fee.  And if this causes your account to go overdrawn, you’re in really bad shape.  Once you wire the money, it is very difficult for your bank to get a wire back.  Especially 2-3 days after you discover the fraudulent check has bounced.

In this case, he sends me a (bad) cashiers check for $7,900.  I deduct $5,100, and wire $2,800 to his ‘casket man’ (which is probably a buddy/scammer or maybe him…This will become apparent below when you see the wiring instructions he sent me).  But a few days later when this check bounces, the bank takes the entire $7,900 from my account, and I’m out $2,800.

Fortunately, I already knew this is a scam, but I continued to play along:

On Wed, May 31, 2017 at 4:13 PM, Stuart Smith <————-@gmail.com> wrote:
My phone number is (470) 440-1876. I’ll be in a meeting for about another hour.  But not sure why you need to call me.

I’m a little confused.  You’re sending me $7,900 instead of $5,000 and you want me to wire the balance $2,900 to the guy you’re getting a casket from. That sounds awfully complicated.  Why don’t you just send me a check for $5,000?

Quick note here. I was not about to give this guy my real phone number.  That number is a “burner” (throw away)  that you can get through the aptly named “Burner” app.  Mr. Jones responded a few hours later:

On Thu, Jun 1, 2017 at 2:58 AM, Mike Jones <elevatedkingforever@gmail.com> wrote:

Thanks for your email..  We are doing business shouldnt i have your phone number so i can call you when payment is with you and also if i need to ask you questions? that why i requested for your number.  Also i am a man of God and this is legit. Please tell other interested buyers it has been sold and also pull down the ad off Craigslist..Let me know once the ad is pull down.

Thanks
Mike

So…he tried to guilt me…he tried to assure me he is honest…and he wanted me to remove the posting off Craig’s list. (Which I was not going to do).  All pretty much classic scammer techniques.  At any rate, our exchange continued with a few more emails, then he sent me this one bright and early on Monday:

On Mon, Jun 5, 2017 at 6:50 AM, Mike Jones <elevatedkingforever@gmail.com> wrote:
Hello, Thanks so much for your understanding and patient.. I really do appreciate it.

The check of $7,900 has been mailed out to you and will be delivered via Usps courier service. Here is the tracking number for it www.usps.com ( 9405501699320119840804) . Once you get you are to deduct $5,000 which is for the lot and remove additional $100 given to you by me for your running expenses and wire the rest which is $2,800 to my casket man details..

Once you get the check, do take it to your bank and have it DEPOSITED. Once deposited it will clear the next day or if you have up to the casket man amount in your account withdraw from your account immediately and proceed to wiring the rest of the fund to my casket man information i will provide you.

Once you get the check do notify me and also once deposited into your account so i can give you the instructions immediately.  Awaiting your email once you get this email..

Also dont forget to update me once you have the check at hand and also once deposited so i can provide you with the wiring instructions.

Thanks
Mike

I did check the tracking number, and it was legitimate. He must have had to pay extra to have it sent express mail.  But, I worked from home on Monday, and wasn’t in the office to take delivery of the letter.  To show how persistent this guy is, he actually sent me a text message (to my burner number) to remind me about the tracking number, and then to tell me it the check had been delivered.  He also called, but I let it go to voicemail (I legitimately was on a work-related call and couldn’t answer my cell).  And, he send me an email later informing me the check had arrived.

On Tuesday, things got really fun!  When I arrived at the office, I found the check had not been delivered.  This didn’t surprise me.  Our mail goes to a central mail hub, then a courier delivers it to various locations around Atlanta.  I went about my day, while my buddy “Mike” sent me various emails and text messages every half or our so.  He must have been really itching to get his illegal cash.  He even left me a voicemail message (the first time I actually heard his voice–western African sounding—and he asked if I had another phone number).  I ignored most of these messages, but did email him and tell him the mail was slow, and I should get it that afternoon.

About 4 PM, I went back to my desk and found an U.S. Postal Service Priority 2-Day envelope!

At least this guy was out about $7 bucks for a 2-day priority mail.  The address label showed a return address (Bros Inc, 9131 SW Urish Rd, Auburn, KS 66402) is in the middle of nowhere rural Kansas on Google Maps.  I suspected this isn’t “Mike Jones’ ” real address.  But I’ll kept this information handy for future interactions.  It actually looks like a really nice house!

When I opened the envelop, I found a single check inside:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I decided to validate one more time just to confirm this was a scam.  I looked up the ABA Routing Number for Mountain America Federal Credit Union via a Google search.

That didn’t match the check (011007092).  I figured, what the heck, let me call the good folks at MACU.  After a few fits and starts with their automated phone tree, I finally got a call back from their fraud department.  I explained that I was in possession of what I suspected was a fraudulent cashiers check, but wanted to confirm.

The agent asked me, “What color is the check?”

“Light blue,” I responded.

Without hesitation, he responded, “Yeah, that’s a fraudulent check.”

So….now I had a decision to make.  Did I want to continue to mess with this guy and string him along for a few more days, or do I just call him out now?  I decided to string him along!   I fired off a series of quick emails.

On Tue, Jun 6, 2017 at 17:01 Stuart Smith <————@gmail.com> wrote:
The check arrived. I’ll deposit it in the ATM and then let you know when it clears. Where do you want me to wire the balance?

A necessary question for us to complete this deal.  Note, I told him I would deposit it in the ATM, but I didn’t say I *had* deposited it yet.  A few minutes later, I wrote:

On Tue, Jun 6, 2017 at 17:13 Stuart Smith <—————@gmail.com> wrote:
Also I need your mailing address so I can transfer the deeds to the cemetery plots to you.

I almost forgot our original deal!  I needed to keep up appearances that I’m still expecting to sell him these cemetery plots!  The I decided to inquire about the “From” name on the check.

On Tue, Jun 6, 2017 at 6:04 PM, Stuart Smith <stuartsmith06@gmail.com> wrote:
Who is Victoria Ann Hill?

“Mike” responded early on Wednesday morning:

On Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 12:42 AM, Mike Jones <elevatedkingforever@gmail.com> wrote:

Thanks for your email. first thing this morning go withdraw the  casket man fund which is $2,800 and follow the instructions i will give you. did you made the deposit yesterday and Victoria Ann is the Remitter of the Check.  Is there Any Bank of America near you

Awaiting your email.
Mike

Then he sent me a text message.  I wasn’t in a position to answer emails, so our dialogue continued via text most of the morning:

Wed June 7, 1:15 AM
Victoria ann is the remitter of the check.. the client I told you about… Have you deposited the check? pls ur urgent response is needed from this moment so we can finalise this.. I also sent u an email
10:30 AM
Morning.. the check already cleared your bank.. you can check ur balance online to confirm
I did. It’s still showing as a “hold”.
it will clear today. just keep checking
12:30
Will do.  What are the wiring instructions?  And do you want to meet so I can sign over the property deed?
I will get the details for wiring it to you later today.. also I will meet up with you on Friday or Saturday so you can give me the deed..  Just withdraw cash and you have it deposited into the account details I will give u

Some amount already available when you deposited the check right?

1:45
No. The bank didn’t give me any credit for the cashiers check. I called and they said the policy is to give partial credit to accounts in good standing after one year. I’ve only had this account for about 5 months.  So the check is on hold until it clears.
Which Bank do you bank with? well in less than 2 to 3 hours check and you see it cleared
A local credit union.  I’ll check again later.

Email me the details on wiring or where you want to meet. I will be in Nashville this weekend and can meet you at Mount Olivet with the cash and the deed to the property.

you have to send the cash to the casket man to start preparation… for the deed I will be the one to come for it.. I will provide u with his account and u go deposit the cash into it and snap me the deposit slip
credit union don’t delay with clearing so am certain the fund will hit the account in some hours. I use to be a bankr
 (He used to be a banker, eh?  Right)
Where do I wire the money?
Bank of America. I have explained to u. Do you have the cash now? Missed call…I ignored his call to my burner number
Don’t know what wrong with your phone. When I call it already charging me without u picking up. Is there another number I can reach u on Ah, so he must be using a pre-paid.  These calls and texts are costing him money…nice 🙂
I can’t just walk into a Bank of America and say “here is some money”.  Where do I send it?

Sorry my phone is acting up.   This is my only number.

So I finally decided I’ve had enough fun with this guy.  At a few minutes after 5:00 PM, I sent the following email:

On Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 8:19 PM, Stuart Smith <——–@gmail.com> wrote:
Subject:  We have a problem…

I’m not sure what kind of trick you’re trying to pull with me, but I just called my credit union and the check you sent was returned. They charged me a $25 returned check fee.  The check isn’t valid. The routing number doesn’t match Mountain View Federal Credit Union.

What the heck is going on here?????

I have to confess, his response kind of surprised me and I literally laughed out loud when I read it:

On Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 5:29 PM Mike Jones <elevatedkingforever@gmail.com> wrote:
That not possible

My final response:

On Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 5:53 PM, Stuart Smith <———–@gmail.com> wrote:
Not only is it possible, it’s reality. I called Mountain View Credit Union. The agent asked me what color the check was. I told him and he said without hesitation “that’s a fraudulent cashiers check”. Its not their routing number on the check. You, my friend, sent me a fraudulent check.

So. Mike Jones of Auburn, Kansas, if that’s who you really are….you wanna stop playing games and tell me what you’re up to?

I guess after that last email, he realized he had been busted.  He never responded to two more subsequent emails.  I suppose this scammer has moved on to other victims.  Hopefully this is good example of why you should be cautious when dealing with anonymous folks online.  Some tips I have:

  1. Never accept payment for more than what you’re asking.
  2. If someone says you can wire (or deposit) extra funds, it’s a scam!
  3. If anyone pays via check, including a cashier’s check, validate the check with the banking institution before you cash it.
  4. When meeting someone for an in person transfer of an item you’re selling online, meet in a public location.  Your local police station parking lots is a great place!

 

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