CLEVELAND, Ohio -- An old scam has caused new pain for a Lorain County man, who lost $1,500 after he was trying to sell some tires.
Matt Willbond Jr. of Wellington got caught in an "overpayment scam" involving a bogus check, a type of fraud which hits Northeast Ohio residents in some form every week, according to the Cleveland Better Business Bureau.
Willbond was trying to sell four tires he was given because the tires were the wrong size for his vehicle. He listed them for sale on Craigslist for $250. Within hours, he was contacted by email from a prospective buyer.
"The woman said, 'I'm injured. I'm not working. I need tires for my vehicle,'" Willbond said. "It just sounded really sincere and honest."
The woman at first was going to pick them up, them wanted to arrange for someone else to pick the tires up. She offered to pay him an extra $50 to hold the tires for her. She said she'd send a check. Willbond said his "gut instinct" was to say no, but he felt sorry for the woman. She said the woman was appreciative. "She said, 'Thank you very much, and God bless,'" he recalled.
When Willbond got a check in the mail, it wasn't for $300 -- it was for $1,800. The check was under the name of Gary Johnson Tire & Auto in Tulsa, Okla. Willbond looked up the business online; it was a real business and the address matched the check.
Willbond was told the extra $1,500 was for "the movers." He was told to wire the $1,500 through MoneyGram. So he deposited the check into his bank account and waited a few days to make sure it cleared. It did, and he wired the $1,500 to someone in Suwanee, Ga.
A couple of days later, he learned the check was bounced and $1,800 was deducted from his account, after he'd already wired $1,500 of it. He couldn't reach the supposed buyer. He couldn't reach the supposed pick-up person. He called the company that supposedly had issued the check. The check had been stolen. Gary Johnson Tire had closed that account two months ago.
"I couldn't believe it," Willbond said.
Scams like these hit Greater Cleveland residents all too often, said Sue McConnell, president of the Cleveland Better Business Bureau.
Sometimes, the fraudulent check involves an online purchase or work-at-home opportunity. Sometimes it involves some contest or grant the person supposedly won but needs to pay fees or taxes.
"Anyone is vulnerable to being scammed because these scammers are good at what they do," McConnell said. "We are all vulnerable and sometimes are too trusting."
McConnell said the BBB hears from victims from all educational backgrounds, all ages, all socio-economic levels.
"There are even investment brokers who get scammed by other investment brokers," she said. "People shouldn't assume they are too smart to be tricked."
McConnell stressed that con artists know how to push our buttons and hook us in. It's all a matter of catching a victim on the right day under the right circumstances. If the day or situation were different, the person might suspect something is awry.
If you think you're being scammed:
Contact the BBB at bbb.org/cleveland or 216-241-7678 or the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov or 877-382-4357. You can also post a report at BBB's Scam Tracker site (bbb.org/scamtracker).
Residents of Cuyahoga County also can contact the Cuyahoga County Consumer Affairs office at 216-443-7035 or go to http://consumeraffairs.cuyahogacounty.us/en-US/Consumer-Help.aspx
Scams involving fake checks or money orders hit the Midwest, roughly the Ohio-Indiana-Michigan region, more than any other part of the country, according to the BBB.
Willbond, who filed a report with the Lorain County sheriff's department, said he's hopeful the thief can be traced through surveillance video from the store where the wire transfer was retrieved.
For now, he's hoping his tale will help others avoid similar financial pain. He advises people selling something online to avoid using their personal email, deal with people you can talk to on the phone and only deal with a buyer you can meet in person.
The only small consolation: Willbond still has the tires, worth about $250. He hasn't decided how he's going to sell them, but it won't involve receiving a check.
Tips to protect yourself from a possible scam:
- Avoid invisible buyers: Never deal with someone who communicates only by text or email and won't talk by phone. If you're selling something big, or pursuing a work-at-home opportunity, meet the other party in person at a public place.
- Be leery of anyone who claims to be living overseas, particularly someone who says he's on military deployment or otherwise can't meet because he's out of the country temporarily.
- Never accept a personal or business check, cashier's check, or money order for more than the purchase price of a product or service and send part of the overpayment to someone else. Ever. Ask the buyer to issue a new check for the correct amount.
- Never wire money to strangers. Once you've sent it, it's almost surely gone.
- Never give personal information such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers or your address to a stranger.
- Never send gift cards, such as iTunes gift cards, to someone as payment for taxes, debts or court fees. No legitimate company or government agency would ever ask for payment by gift cards that you go out and buy.
- If you do accept a check from someone, even for the correct amount, don't assume it's legitimate just because your bank makes the funds available for you to withdraw. It could take weeks or even months for a fraudulent or bad check to be discovered.
- When dealing with a buyer in person, demand cash. For a large purchase, go to the person's bank with her to observe a cashier's check being issued from a bank employee.
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