Thursday, March 8, 2012

The PayPal Scam

A crab spider working his web on Long Key.

There’s always somebody out there ready to catch you in a web of deception, and there are a couple things that haven’t changed over the years. If you post a boat for sale on the internet, the fraudulent scammers will come out of the rotten woodwork from almost every country on earth. Another thing that hasn’t changed is that, in the field of investigation and funding for investigation, no one cares. The criminals are given free rein to victimize the public at will. The one thing that has changed, however, is the degree to which they have perfected their con. They’ve become much more artful and convincing, but if you know the red flags to look for, they are still there.

I had a prospective buyer contact me about purchasing Thistle, the Dufour 25. He presented himself as working on an offshore drilling rig, seldom getting ashore, but was interested in getting the boat as a surprise birthday gift for his Dad in Michigan. He asked all the right questions that you would anticipate coming from a thoughtful and thorough buyer. His responses were reasonable and believable. After keeping me engaged for nearly a week of back and forth e.mails, he put his con in play. Since he couldn’t get ashore to the bank, he wanted to pay for the boat with PayPal. He ran into a problem with the shipping agent that was going to pick up the boat for him. They wouldn’t accept a bank transfer or cashier’s check, only Western Union. Since the added $1,250 put the total above the listed purchase price, PayPal wouldn’t release the funds until the shipping agent was paid and provided PayPal with the receipt and invoice number to confirm that the extra money was indeed for shipping. PayPal sent me two e.mails indicating that the funds had been transferred to them, and the funds had cleared, but were being held until they received the documents from the shipper. Since they had all the funds, I’d have to wire the shipping fee to the agent in London. The flags were (1) me having to advance money, (2) the shipping agent being offshore, and (3) a couple misspelled words in the PayPal e.mails.

I called PayPal’s securities and fraud department. They could not find an account for the buyer, and were not holding any funds in either the buyer’s or my name. They also had not sent me any e.mails. Having confirmed that it was a fraud, the next issue was what to do with it.

That’s when the fun began. I called the local police knowing they wouldn’t handle such an investigation, but to see who they would direct such an internet fraud case to. They told me to call the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. The OSBI told me to call the State Attorney General’s Office. The AG’s office told me to call the FCC. The FCC told me to call the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC told me to call the FBI. The first FBI number I called has been disconnected. The second number I got rang busy all day. No one really knew who handled internet fraud. Why should they? It’s only one of the largest types of criminal activity existing for the last few decades. The man I talked with at the FTC said they basically don’t do anything until they get a file on such a large number of people being victimized from one obvious source that they can feel confident of a successful investigation. Why go searching for the criminals? Just wait until they get so over-confident that they identify themselves.

The other thing that disturbed me, other than the blind leading the blind response from all the agencies I called, was every Federal agency answering my call with, “If you wish to continue in English, press 1.”

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