We purchased a liferaft before our last cruise to use specifically while crossing the Gulf Stream and the Gulf of Mexico. Once we finished those crossings, the plan all along was to put it up for sale and recoup some of our money. The liferaft was well cared for and in almost new condition. It was posted for sale online at a few different sites and we received responses almost immediately. In many cases, the responses contained offers and ridiculously low prices that we quickly declined. Red Flag Number One. One response offered to buy the raft at our asking price, no questions asked. Red Flag Number Two. In addition, they asked if we would prepare the raft for shipping to their freight forwarding company. We explained from the first contact that the raft was for sale as is where is, we would not in any way get involved with shipping, and it was to be picked up at our location only. We told the buyer that we would not accept any extra money for shipping or handling, period.
When asked how to pay, we explained that either a certified check, cash or money order was okay. Red Flag Number Three. The buyer stated that they were currently out of the country and that they needed to ship the raft to their location. Again, we explained we would not ship the raft. When they asked for the address to mail the check, we gave them our mailing address and repeated that we would not accept additional money for shipping. The total for the liferaft was $1200.00.
Red Flag Number Four And The Biggest. In short order, an envelope arrived with a certified check for the amount of $1850.00 and a note to deposit the check and send the difference, $610.00, to a freight forwarding company at an attached address. We were to keep the $40.00 difference for our trouble. Now it was quite clear to us that this was a scam. I was born at night, but not last night. The accompanying cashier's check was written on a California bank. A search of the Internet showed this to be a legitimate bank with several branches in California. Trying to do the right thing, we called the bank branch on the check from the info we got online and not from the check, although they were the same. We gave the bank the info on the check and they confirmed it was counterfeit. But to our surprise, they had no interest in pursuing this matter or even in having us return the check. Their response was to tear it up. Search of the freight forwarding company proved it, too, was a legitimate company, but the address the scammers provided proved to be bogus.
Red Flag Number Five. Almost immediately after we received the check, another email followed with instructions to change the information and instructions on where to send the freight forwarding money. This time we were given an individual's name and address in New York and requested to send a Western Union Money Order to be picked up. Another Internet search brought up several names that matched in New York and a couple in the city where the address was located. These people, I use the term loosely, are good. But we were still not fooled.
Our next step was to contact the local authorities. At this point, we had not made any additional contacts with the “buyer.” A call to the local County Sheriff proved fruitless; they had no interest whatsoever in pursuing the matter. Neither did the authorities in California. The scammers made contact through Facebook, so we did notify them. We have no idea if anything was done to cancel their account. Since the scammers sent the payment through the U.S. Mail, we took everything to the Post Office to see if they would take up the matter. They made copies of everything and passed it on to the higher ups. But they did say the odds of anything actually happening was slim. It’s no wonder these thieves continue. There is no one in authority doing anything to stop them or protect the public. So we must all be proactive and protect ourselves. After about a week, we received another email from the scammers stating they were worried about us since we had not responded and they had not received their payment. Our response was, “We're sorry we worried you, but rest assured we have turned over all of your information to the proper authorities and you should hear from them soon.” Not quite true, but we never heard from them again. With the many kinds of scams and intrusions you might encounter over the Internet, here are some ways you can protect yourself.
1. Be careful if someone offers to buy an item at your asking price. This may not always be an issue, just be careful.
2. Never accept payment for more than your asking price unless you specifically ask for shipping costs and YOU arrange and pay the shipping yourself.
3. Never assume that even a certified check or money order is legitimate. Check it out yourself.
4. NEVER give out you financial information, bank accounts, etc. Scammers will ask for this information to transfer funds to your account. Instead, they will transfer funds out of your account.
5. Never give any personal information not absolutely needed to complete the sale. If you must meet in person, do it at a police station or fire station that is manned. Never go alone, bring a friend, maybe two.
6. Never click on any links provided in an email, even if it’s from someone you know well and trust. CALL them and ask if they sent it. Their email contact list may have been hacked.
7. NEVER click on or open an attachment to an email, no matter who it seems to be from. These attachments can, at best, install malware on your computer and, at worst, install ransomeware that will encrypt your entire computer and any device connected to it until you pay the criminal money to unlock it.
8. Never give out your Social Security Number.
9. Get a Phone number from the seller and call them. Have a few conversations to satisfy yourself that this person is legit. No phone number, no go. Especially if they claim to be out of the country. You call them, don’t accept they will call you. Discuss how they will use the product if selling or how the product has been used if buying.
10, Never make payments via gift cards, prepaid cards of any kind, Western Union or any other money grams.
11. Watch out for counterfeit cash as well as checks and money orders. Insist on small bills and look for anything that looks suspicious. If in doubt, go to a bank and verify the bills before handing over merchandise. You might consider meeting in a bank lobby if selling for cash.
12. Use common sense and follow your instincts. Common sense isn’t so common anymore.
13. Don’t respond to an email from your bank, call them at the number YOU HAVE for them.
14. Never provide personal information or click on a link as a result of an email from the Police, IRS or any other authority. They will not contact you via email.
15. If you're contacted about donations, money or prizes, cut off the contact immediately.
It’s a different world we live in than the one I grew up in. We all need to be cautious, but not paranoid. Keep in mind that others you're doing this kind of business with are just as concerned as you are. Think each step through and don’t rush or let others rush you. If someone gets pushy, step back and reassess the situation. If you lose this sale or a great deal, another will be around the corner. The great deal might just not be so great after all.
Have you or anyone you know been the victim of a scam? If so, post the details in our comments section. Help us to help others. Keep in mind that our comments section is moderated. No comments are posted with any kinds of links or nastiness. Pass the information in this post on to others. If you save one person from falling victim to these scammers, they will thank you for a very long time. And so will we. If we pass the word and these criminals can’t find victims to fall for their tricks, they will be forced to move on. Only you can protect yourself and your loved ones. Be well and stay safe.