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Scams Costly to Good Bank Customers

           If a stranger on the street asked your good customer to deposit a $5,000 check and then withdraw $4,000 and give it to the stranger, he would say, “No!” as he walked away shaking his head.  If some stranger over the Internet wants your customer to deposit a check for the stranger and then send someone else most of the money, would that same customer do it?

            If the stranger is a con artist that has gained your customer’s confidence, he might agree.  Why?  There are many reasons, ranging from a customer sense of duty to help those in need, to a promise of financial gain, to a desire to succeed in completing a different legitimate transaction.  However, the most important reason is that the customer does not understand what could (and will) go wrong, leaving him with a huge loss.

            The con schemes vary greatly, and a book would be needed to explain the complexity of some of them.  The con artists can spend months setting up your customer.  Some common cons follow:

                                                            Internet Buyer Con

             This con scheme starts with a legitimate and honest person selling something on the Internet.  A buyer agrees to a price, but needs to ship the item out of the country.  The buyer overpays for the item and asks the seller to send the overpayment to the shipping company.  The result is that the naïve customer deposits a worthless check he received from the alleged buyer and then sends off the extra cash by Cashier’s Check or wire.  When the check is later returned, the customer sustains the loss.

            In some variations of this con scheme, a very large check is received made payable to the seller.  The con claims it was an error buy says he would greatly appreciated it if the seller could just send him back the extra $87,000 overpayment, and keep $500 for the trouble. 

            In other variations, the seller is told he will receive a wire, but in reality the bank receives a Fed-Ex package containing a large check and instructions to deposit it to the good customer payee’s account.  The customer thinks he has received good funds by wire and doesn’t even realize he has cashed a bogus check and sent the money to a stranger.

                                                        The Help Move Money Con

                        This started as the typical Nigerian Scam in which suckers are asked to help move millions into the country that has been funneled off by foreign government officials.  In exchange for the use of his account, the bank customer can keep a couple million dollars.     

            The more successful variation of this scheme is the poor widow with a child who just was awarded millions in an oil company accident lawsuit.  She needs to move her money from Nigeria to a safe place in the United States before the corrupt government steals it.  Hundreds of similar variations of this con exist.  Eventually the bank customer receives a check for about $200,000 and is then told to send 80 percent of the funds to someone.  This results in a good bank customer cashing a worthless check and sending the money to a stranger.  When the check is later returned the customer is liable. 

                                                  Lottery Scam Con

            In the lottery scam the customer is told he won a $5,000,000 lottery, but the customer must pay the taxes and fees first.  When the customer doesn’t have the $250,000 for the taxes and fees, the con has someone who can loan it to the customer.  Your customer then deposits the check and sends the $250,000 by wire.  Again, the result is that the good bank customer cashes a worthless check for a stranger. 

                                              Your bank customer suffers

                        The customer is liable when an altered check is returned weeks or even months later.  Your bank can suffer a loss if your customer files bankruptcy to avoid paying for the returned check. 

Prevent Losses

             A bank can assist its customers in avoiding these losses by helping educate them about these scams and letting them know the customer is responsible for a worthless altered check even years later.