Consumer Protection Division
(208) 334-2424 or
Toll-free at (800) 432-3545

Media Contact: Bob Cooper
(208) 334-4112

Date: April 29, 2003

Foreign Check Counterfeiters Active in Idaho

(Boise) - Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and United States Attorney for Idaho Tom Moss today warned Idahoans to be extremely cautious when selling high-value items to foreigners over the Internet. The chief state and federal legal officers for Idaho said a counterfeit check scheme has targeted at least 4 Idaho residents in recent weeks. At least two Idaho residents have reportedly lost several thousand dollars.

"The scheme is a variation of the Nigerian money scam," Attorney General Wasden said. "It targets people using legitimate Internet auction services such as E-Bay to sell expensive items such as cars or horses. Victims can find themselves out thousands of dollars and holding a worthless, counterfeit cashier's check."

Moss said prevention is the consumer's best protection. "Once the money is gone it's usually gone for good," he said. "Many of these countries don't have extradition treaties with the United States, and investigating an overseas case can cost many times the amount of the loss. In this situation, sellers really do need to beware."

Here is how the scheme works:

  • The victim is selling a used car or some other item of value via the Internet.
  • A buyer sends an e–mail message that he wants to buy the item. The buyer says he will pay with a cashier's check or corporate check from a bank in the U.S.
  • The buyer sends a cashier's check for thousands of dollars more than the purchase price. When questioned he will make an excuse and ask the seller to deposit the check and return the difference by wire transfer after the check clears.
  • The victim thinks the check must be good when his or her bank accepts it and provides the funds. But, in a week or so the check turns out to be counterfeit.
  • By that time, the victim has wired thousands of dollars overseas, never to be seen again.
  • The bank requires the victim to pay back the money to cover the phony check.

"The checks are counterfeit, but of such good quality that they often fool bank personnel who study them," the Attorney General added. "Victims think the cashier's check or corporate check must be good when the bank gives them the money. But several days later, they learn the check is a fake and they are out both the item they sold and the full face value of the counterfeit check, including the money they sent to Nigeria."

"There are many legitimate buyers overseas," Moss said. "But if you are overpaid and asked to return the 'extra' cash, it's almost certainly a scam. The best thing to do is cancel the sale and return the check."

Wasden and Moss encouraged victims of this scam to contact the US Secret Service, the lead agency fighting this fraud. Victims can call the Secret Service at (202) 406–5572, or write to: US Secret Service, Financial Crimes Division, 950 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20001. Victims may also call the Secret Service's Boise office at (208) 334–1403.  Click here* to e–mail complaints to the Secret Service.

Attorney General Wasden also encouraged victims to notify his Consumer Protection Unit. The Boise area phone number is (208) 334–2424. Idaho residents outside the Boise calling area can call toll free (800) 432–3545.

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*NOTE TO READERS: The Secret Service no longer accepts e–mails at the above address. Instead, the Secret Service encourages consumers who have suffered a financial loss to contact the local Secret Service office. More information.

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