Fraud alert!

I'm sorry if you were expecting election news with that headline.  Instead, this is a bit of a public service announcement.  It seems that what is old is new again.  My banker confirmed that what I'm about to describe almost belongs in the dusty archives of ancient crime.

I've recently become the target of two somewhat unusual attempts at fraud in this electronic era.  The Feds seem completely uninterested in them, and they decline to respond to my attempts to inform them.  Like me, you're on your own.

The first one came when I was attempting to sell a piece of furniture.  I posted it in an online marketplace, and a buyer agreed to my price.  Shortly, I received a check for an odd sum substantially larger than the asking price.  I contacted the buyer, who then insisted that I should cash the check and give the excess funds to the "moving agent."  After a back-and-forth where the buyer refused to identify the "moving agent," I told the buyer to pound sand.

Very shortly thereafter, a second buyer appeared, and the dance repeated.  This time, I was a bit more suspicious, and I noticed that the check was drawn on a New York bank in the name of a New York company, but sent overnight from a company in Texas.  Strange, indeed.  This time I kept the evidence, but the FBI never responded to my complaint.

The premise of this scam is that when you cash the check, the "moving agent" shows up to get the article, get the excess cash, and depart.  That looks legit, but the next part is where you get burned.  Days later, your bank informs you that the check was rubber, and withdraws the full amount from your life savings.  Then they close your account, and your credit rating dies.  You lose whatever you were selling and the money you gave the "moving agent," who took your stuff to the dump.  The "buyer" never wanted anything but your cash.

The next stunt was less direct and, frankly, but for something the Post Office actually did right, might have succeeded.  I received a notice from the USPS that I had submitted an address change/forwarding order.  If I had really done it, I didn't need to do anything.  But since I didn't submit a change of address, I jumped on the USPS website and shut it down.  Then I went to my local P.O. and found out that the mail had been destined for Montana (I live in the free state of Florida).  A day later, another notice arrived, addressed to "Ted Noel," not "Theodore Noel" like the first time.  Instantly, I was asking to see a supervisor.  He checked, and we managed to get the exact address in Montana and shut down any forwarding before it happened.  Maybe the Postal Inspector General will do something.  I'm not holding my breath.

I thought this was odd, but the real reason for all this became clear the next week when I got a notice that my Navy Federal Credit Union Visa check card would be coming.  When it arrived the next day, I went to my local NFCU and explained that I wasn't a member, wasn't eligible to be a member, and someone was attempting to impersonate me.  The bank officer politely took care of it, and NFCU began its fraud investigation.  And in a couple of days, I got an NFCU statement of "my" checking and savings accounts, complete with their zero balances.  Apparently, it started its trip before I had started mine.

It seems that persons unknown had tried to get my mail, complete with whatever checks might be in it, sent to them in Montana, where they'd use an app to deposit them to "my" NFCU account.  The Visa card would make it easy to use the money, and all I'd know is that my mail had gone missing.  By time we tracked it down, they'd be on to the next mark.

With all the hype about data hacks, electronic fraud, and the like, it's easy to forget that all someone has to do is rummage through your trash, make a fake ID, and he's on the way to taking your money.  With the current political currents, local prosecutors may not even care.  You may not have the right political leaning, skin color, flag on your bumper, or whatever.  That makes you the only line of defense.

I'm very happy that my local Post Office sent the notices.  Without them, my day could have been very unpleasant.  So far, I'm only out a couple of hours, and my local police department takes this seriously.  If you are alert, you may be able to do the same.

Ted Noel, M.D. posts as DoctorTed and @Vidzette.

Image credit: GotCredit.

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