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Marble Falls police warn of Internet check-cashing scam

POSTED 4-7-2010

MARBLE FALLS — Internet sellers beware: Someone may be trying to scam you.

That’s the word this week from Marble Falls police, who say an attempted scam by a user of the popular online-sales site Craigslist nearly landed a Marble Falls resident in hot water.

Police Sgt. Glenn Hanson said quick thinking by local bank tellers — who had seen the scam before — saved the would-be victim from losing hundreds of dollars.

"We get these every so often; usually once every few months one will pop up," Hanson said Wednesday. "It’s a very typical scam that’s perpetrated usually on Craigslist."

Here’s how the scam works: A seller will post an item — say, a bicycle — on the Web site. A short time later, a buyer responds and offers to mail a payment to the seller in exchange for the merchandise.

"Someone will engage you and say, ‘I’m going to buy it. Where do I send the money?’" Hanson said. "Eventually, you’ll get a money order or possibly a counterfeited check."

However, there’s a catch, Hanson said: The payment is usually several hundred dollars greater than the seller’s asking amount.

"If you’re asking for $100, they’ll send $1,100," he said. "(The buyer) will say, ‘Oops, my secretary made a mistake.’ They’ll have you take your payment and ask you to wire the rest back, usually to some obscure address."

Later, the check or money order comes back as forged or counterfeit — leaving the person who made the bank deposit on the hook for the whole amount, Hanson said.

In the recent case, he said a local seller received a counterfeit check drawn on an account stolen from an Arlington bank with a branch in Marble Falls.

"Fortunately, the bank had already flagged that account because there had been an incident with it before," Hanson said. "So the bank workers were able to catch it before it could be deposited."

Hanson said the bank informed police, who are investigating.

Such scams are relatively common on Craigslist, which has grown exponentially in the digital age. According to the Web site’s abuse-prevention section, nearly every instance of a buyer asking a seller to wire money back has been a scam, with many of the perpetrators living outside the United States.

"The best thing to do to prevent this is to deal with local people that you can meet face-to-face," Hanson said. "Otherwise, you leave yourself open to this type of scam."

Hanson said officers deal with scams frequently, though few have resulted in a resident losing money.

"That’s the nice thing, because most of these are caught early on," he said. "We’ll usually take the report and turn it over to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service."

Anyone who thinks he or she is the target of an online scam can call their local police department or visit the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov to fill out an online complaint form.

chris@thepicayune.com