Binary Star

A cheque-based over-payment scam

Background

I recently (June 2003) had occasion to sell a motorcycle and made use of an advertisement on a small, specialist web site which runs classified ads to a very specific market. After my ad had been up for three weeks I started to receive responses attempting to defraud me of money and over the next six weeks (until my ad was removed) I received nine such responses in a steady stream. This seems amazing to me - an insignificant ad on a little-known web site receiving so much attention from scammers!

When I received the first of these approaches I was suspicious but it took me quite a while to track down information about this particular scam on the net. I have therefore built this page, with copies of the emails received, in the hope that some of the search engines will index it and make it easier for others to find out about this in the future.

The scam

The scam involves someone offering to buy whatever it is you're selling but, for some contrived reason, needing to pay more than you are asking. They will trust you to send them the difference. The scam is in the payment - it will be some sort of cheque which will turn out to be forged and so will bounce. The plan is to get you to send the difference before you realise that the cheque is forged. I understand that this can work quite well in America where the banks will 'clear' a cheque into your account and let you withdraw funds but then later (sometimes a lot later) inform you that the cheque was forged and take the 'cleared' funds back from you. In the UK (where I am) the banks apparently take more responsibility for the validity of their documents and will typically verify a cheque before clearing the funds in your account. I therefore think that this scam is less likely to work in the UK but nonetheless you should be very wary.

From looking at the emails received it is clear that some sort of form letter is being used with specific details (e.g. description of purchase, price offered) being inserted. Despite this obvious opportunity for greatly refining the messages, they typically seem to be of very poor quality. This suggests that the scammers are themselves victims of a scam, having been sold some sort of "get rich quick" scheme. This scheme may include some details of the potential targets, which might explain why such an obscure ad as mine attracted so many of these scams.

My advertisement

For reference, and for comparison with the mails received (see below), here is the text of my original advertisement:

I've inherited a Yamaha XV535S Virago which sadly I'm not licensed to ride. It hasn't been ridden for some time but it's garaged and I've just had it serviced so it has 12 months MoT, new exhausts, new front brake and a new battery. It's L registered (1994) and has 24000 miles on the clock. Paintwork is silver and burgundy. It's in very good condition but there are small rust spots here and there. I'm looking for 1200 ono.

Scam mails

Reproduced below are the emails received. This is largely so that the search engines can index them. This will allow people who are suspicious of a scam because they've received a similar email to confirm it by searching for choice phrases (and you'll see there are some pretty unique ones!) and hopefully locating this page.

I've included some commentary on features of the emails that I've noted.


This was the first one, which immediately aroused my suspicion. Note that the To: address is forged for some reason. The number of exclamation marks in the subject line is strange, and triggered my spam trap. The inserted description of the goods is clumsy, not least because it is entirely in upper case. Sent from a Yahoo account, which offers some form of anonymity.

From:    walex tom [genely2008@yahoo.com]
To:      genely2008@yahoo.com
Subject: Re:purchase enquiry!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hello, It's been nice know this web-site and truly found what exact thing have been looking for.I got the placement of the advert of your BIKE from a decent site and decided to make a contact with you and really found out about what your last offer is bcos' I saw the price and i think is some how expensive, also i will like to know the present condition of the BIKE.I am from the the west part of africa and I specialized in buying of used BIKE and product and resale them for any of my cleint who is interested to purchase it from me and now i have one. expecting your reply! Regards.


Do you Yahoo!?
SBC Yahoo! DSL - Now only $29.95 per month!

The next one to arrive was this, apparently from someone else but also using a Yahoo account. This time the description is inserted in lowercase though still somewhat clumsily but the text of the message is otherwise identical. The To: address was again forged but appeared to be a valid address (of an unknown third party) so I've removed it for their privacy.

From:    olas_autos@yahoo.co.uk
To:      <forged address removed>
Subject: Re:purchase enquiry!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hello, It's been nice know this web-site and truly found what exact thing have been looking for.I got the placement of the advert of your bike from a decent site and decided to make a contact with you and really found out about what your last offer is bcos' I saw the price and i think is some how expensive, also i will like to know the present condition of the ami continental bike.I am from the west part of africa and I specialized in buying of used bikes and product and resale for any of my cleint who is interested to purchase it from me and now i have one. expecting your reply! Regards


Want to chat instantly with your online friends?Get the FREE Yahoo! Messenger

Next came this. Although very different in many respects, it is still suspicious. I gave this one the benefit of the doubt and responded, saying that I could not accept cheques, but the dialogue ended there.

From:    dacovasam@yahoo.com
To:      <correct address removed>
Subject: Yamaha XV535S
Hello,
 This is Mr Dacova a dealer from switzerland.i will like to purchase your Yamaha XV535S .so all i want you to do is to give me your last ofering price so that payment will be made to you fast.
 And also i love your pics.
 Regards,
 Dacova..........


Do you Yahoo!?
The New Yahoo! Search - Faster. Easier. Bingo.

Again, I gave this one the benefit of the doubt but got no further.

From:    jimmy_billups@fastermail.com
To:      <correct address removed>
Subject: Yamaha XV535S Virago
Hello,

am jimmybillups by name,a reputable and highly respected business man in scotland but i do have some other companies in some africa countries.i would like to state my interest in purchasin your advertised Yamaha XV535S Virago which for sale.i will like to know if its for sale.and give me the least price of it so i can make plan on buying it.i will like you get back to me to know your decision.my timely response will be appreciated and my regards to you and your family.hope to hearing from you asap.

jimmybillups......
--
_______________________________________________
Get your free email from http://www.fastermail.com

Powered by Outblaze

Now another new template but again with uppercase insertions, this time for the name of the sender as well as the description of the goods. In this one the scam is a bit more exposed up front as he already talks about a third party sending a cheque. The 'anonymous' mailer is Outblaze again.

From:    smith mitchell63 [s.mitchell63@outblaze.net]
To:      <correct address removed>
Subject: Yamaha XV535S Virago................. 1200
Attn Seller,

My name is SMITH MITCHELL,i am a reputable dealer of goods and services,i buy goods for my clients.I have many shipping companies in some west africa countries.
There is a client of mine who is willing to buy your BIKE
which i saw on your website and i happened to find out that
the cost of the BIKE is (1200) so i informed my client
about the cost of BIKE but he said there is no problem
with the cost.that is interested in your said BIKE for sale let me know the cost of your BIKE and its present condition because my client is really in need of it.Meanwhile i have a client in the U.K that will issue you a check on my behalf,i made an order with my client some months ago but the order was cancelled,and now he his willing to send a cheque to any of my sellers in the U.K. So let me know the cost of your BIKE and its present state immediately,and with these i will like you to forward me with your contact info in which payment will be made out to. Pls note that you do not have to worry concerning the forwarding of the BIKE i will take care of
it,i will arrange for a shipper that will come to your location to
pick up the BIKE. So if you agree to all this terms and agreement let me have your full contact information to where my client will be sending the check to
like
this:
NAME...........
FULL ADDRESS.........
CITY............
STATE.........
COUNTRY..........
ZIPCODE........
CELL/OFFICE/HOME PHONE NUMBER..........
Alongside with the picture of the BIKE if available.
Looking forward to your respondS:

Best Regards,
SMITH.....

--

Powered by Outblaze

This one looks a bit more sophisticated because he claims to be an auto dealer, so he's not just inserting the description of the goods but also a related description of his business. In fact, he even has an appropriate email address (Hotmail this time). That needs human intervention but then I'd guess none of these were automated; they probably originate from places where labour is still cheaper than computing power - that's the sort of thing that can make you desparate enough to try this on. Also talks about 'certified cashier Cheque' up front. He seems slightly confused about the uses of forenames and surnames in his target culture.

From:    Johnson Micheal [autocreative@hotmail.com]
To:      <correct address removed>
Subject: Yamaha XV535S Virago
Dear Seller,

I 'm an auto dealer in west africa, and i have companies in
african countries,i buy and sell both used and new bikes for my clients, let
me know the cost of the Yamaha XV535S Virago and the present condition
.meanwhile my client pay with a certified cashier Cheque. let me know the
cost and the present condition immediately .looking forward to your
response.

regards..........

Johnson

_________________________________________________________________
STOP MORE SPAM with the new MSN 8 and get 2 months FREE*
http://join.msn.com/?page=features/junkmail

This one seems to come from Oxford, Dubai, a place with a UK-style postcode! Looks as though the original template had bracketed insertion markers, perhaps like (product-description), and our worthy scammer forgot (or didn't know) to remove the brackets!

From:    smith henry [smithhenry2004@yahoo.com]
To:      <correct address removed>
Subject: Yamaha XV535S Virago
Cotswold Business Park, Witney,
OX29 0YB, Dubai
 
HELLO.
    I Am a dealer in bikes and cars resident in dubai am interested in your (Yamaha XV535S Virago  ) client has just ordered for this model of (Yamaha XV535S Virago  ) i will want you to give me the price of the ( Yamaha XV535S Virago ) so that i will instruct my client who is owing me to effect payment immediately by a cashier check drawn in unitedkingdom bank if that is ok by you get back to me immediately.
    Best regaurds
        MR Smith


Do you Yahoo!?
Yahoo! SiteBuilder - Free, easy-to-use web site design software

This one's quite different but made more suspicious by the arrival of the following one in the same batch of email.

From:    paul obieze [paulpeter1977de_boat@yahoo.com]
To:      <correct address removed>
Subject: at #1200

 

 

 

 

Hello ,

i am intresting to buy your   Yamaha XV535S Virago for my client

  tthat needs it urgently in holland so pls i will like you to get back to me soonest and let me know the least
you will sell it to me
thanks
PAUL .

 

 


Do you Yahoo!?
The New Yahoo! Search - Faster. Easier. Bingo.

This was the last one received before I cancelled the ad and wrote this page (there could still be more to come). It is almost identical to the preceding one which arrived at the same time. Presumably the subject line is meant to be a reference to the price. The message seems to refer to a different bike (it's a 1992 750 and is described as 'model 12500m' which sounds more like a mileage reading). Such a bike could well be advertised alongside mine on the same web site so this is probably a confusion of target email addresses.

From:    paul obieze [paulpeter1977de_boat@yahoo.com]
To:      <correct address removed>
Subject: at #1900

 

 

 

 

Hello ,

i am intresting to buy your Virago 750cc, 1992 model 12500m  for my client

   tthat needs it urgently in holland so pls i will like you to get back to me soonest and let me know the least
you will sell it to me
thanks
PAUL .

 

 


Do you Yahoo!?
The New Yahoo! Search - Faster. Easier. Bingo.