Scammers

Selling Your Boat?  Don’t Get Scammed!
Or, How I Sold the World’s Most Expensive Grampian 26

By: Imabad Buoy

Selling your boat?  By now it seems most people are aware of the counterfeit check overpayment scam, but based on the number of crooks still contacting sellers, some people are still being victimized by these con men.  Even if you know about the scam, you might find the following story of my encounter while selling a boat interesting reading.

Last spring I put my 1973 Grampian 26 up for sale, asking $7,800.  The boat and I are in Ontario, Canada.  It was listed in an on-line classified with my email address, and it wasn’t long before I got a query:

Date: Tue, 13 May 2008
From: "Markus william" <markus.williamm@gmail.com>
Subject: BOAT FOR SALE

Hello ,  I am Markus William and i am residentin the  UK .
I am interested in your boat tha you have for sale . I would want to
know if it is in a good codition . I would want to know if it has any
mechanical problem . I would want to know why you are selling the boat
. I would handle shipping and also we would want this trasaction to be
carried out as soon as possible . Please do email me more pictures .
Thank you

Well, how could you doubt the seriousness of this buyer?  So I reply that yes, the boat is in good “codition”, no, it has no mechanical problem and I am selling it to get lots of money.  I also send photos.  Unfortunately the photos were for a 56’ carbon fiber racing sailboat that was for sale for $800,000 at the time.  OK, my bad.

Just when I thought he had enough of a clue to realize I was having him on, I get this:

Date: Fri, 13 Jun 2008
From: MARKUS William <markus.william@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: BOAT FOR SALE

Thank you for your email and i am extremely sorry for the delay in responding . I was away on a vacation .  I would want to know your last asking price for the offer as soon as possible .
Thank you
William Markus

Looks like Markus William (now William Markus) must have spent his vacation at English as a Second Language camp.  No doubt a low-level crook found me to be a potential victim and sold my contact information to a higher level, more literate crook.

By the way, every computer on the Internet has a unique IP number, which is its address in cyberspace.  It turns out free email services like Gmail and Yahoo put the IP address of the originating computer into each email’s headers. (If that sentence doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry.)  Looking up Mr. William and Mr. Markus show they’re both in Nigeria, world headquarters for online scams.

Naturally I’m curious to see how much he knows about boats, so I tell him I’m taking offers and will sell it to the highest bidder.  Then:

Date: Sat, 14 Jun 2008
From: MARKUS William <markus.william@yahoo.com
Subject: Re: BOAT FOR SALE

I would love to make an offer but i would want to know first what you have in mind ,

Of course he can’t name a number; he has no idea what he’s trying to use to swindle me.  After another round of “you tell me, no you tell me”, I say I’ve got a buyer interested at $64,000.  (Hey, Grampian 26s are known for being roomy, having as much interior room as 56’ racer, one might say.)

It took six days to get a response.  I think my price must have threw him.  The crook he bought my name from probably dealt in lower value classified advertisers. 

Date: Fri, 20 Jun 2008
From: MARKUS William <markus.william@yahoo.com
Subject: PAYMENT AND SHIPPING

Hello,
Thanks for the mail back to me. Concerning buying your boat ,i have agreed with the price of  $69000  and i would like to make a deposit payment of $28,000 . I am buying the boat in a hurry because i have an order placed for the boat here in the UK being that i run a boat shop here.

Regarding payment , my client in the the owes me  $49,900 , which i will instruct him to issue you a draft drawn on  my behalf, he would need your full name , contact address and phone number so that he can forward the draft to you, you would then cash the money from the draft at the nearest post office or bank and collect the deposit payment for the boat and the remaining balance would be sent to my shipper so he could come over to pick up the boat at your location ASAP ( As Soon AS Possible ) . When my shipper arrives he would payup the remaining balance upon arrival.

You are to please cash the money from the draft , deduct your boat deposit and send the balance to my shipper immediately ( whose information i would provide to you in subsequent email ) that would be handling his shipping cost and accommodation to Canada to pick up the boat .

I would have to trust you to send the money to him in order for him to pick up the boat as soon as possible . As for now i would be contacting my client to make payments to you ASAP and also my shipper to start putting up every necessary arrangement as soon as payment getsto you . My shipper would need you to send funds to him after receipt of payment so he could ship the boat just in time . Also i would want you please furnish my shipper with the receipt of purchase and as this would enable him to easily prepare custom papers for the boat .

I would give you a call with the number you have given me .If these would be okay by you,kindly get back to me as soon as possible.

Thanks
William Markus

Here we go.  $69,000 for a boat listed for $7,800, but he will only send $49,900 now.  Of course!  Banks (here, anyway) automatically phone to verify checks over $50K.  If he sent me the full amount the bogus check would be detected immediately at the bank.  By giving Mr. William a price above that he had to figure out how he could still scam me.  It took him a week, but he came back with this ploy to stay under the bank’s radar.

If you haven’t caught it yet, here’s the scam.  I deposit a check for $49,900, keep my deposit of $28,000 then withdraw and wire $21,100 to his “shipper”.  When the check bounces several days later, I’m on the hook for the 21 grand I wired to this crook.  More on this below.

Naturally I accept his offer ASAP (As Soon AS Possible).  He also responds ASAP:

Date: Sat, 21 Jun 2008
From: MARKUS William <markus.william@yahoo.com
Subject: PAYMENT UPDATE

Hi there ,

I just wanted to inform you that payment should reach you not later than 12 days . I would keep you informed . By shipper would contact you next week . Do let me know via email or phone call as  soon as you receive payments  .

Thank you.

Markus William
Plot 44 ,
Leadenhall Street,
London,
EC3A 2DX,
UK
Tel: +44 (0)70 4571 xxxx

I had kept calling him Mr. William in my replies.  He must have realized he had his name backwards since he switched it back here. 

Mr. William of the UK now has an address, which, thanks to the Royal Mail’s website, is shown to be non-existent.  “Plot 44” is how a street number would be given in Nigeria, but not the UK.  The phone number is not spaced properly for UK numbers.  This is probably because “070” area codes in the UK are for “personal numbers”, that is, numbers that automatically forward calls to whatever phone you want, such as work, home, or cell.  Or to a phone in Nigeria.  Scammers use these personal numbers to appear to be in the UK when they’re not.  Since this trick is becoming well known, Mr. William formats his area code in the unconventional “(0)70” style.

Others who tease these scammers (Google “scambaiters”) tell of getting their forged checks and money orders by Fedex.  12 days for payment?  Hey, I want a Fedexed check too!

From: Imabad Buoy
Subject: Re: PAYMENT UPDATE
To: markus.william@yahoo.com
Date: Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mr William,

What is this?  Some kind of Joke?

You have kept saying through this that you want to purchase this boat
ASAP.  I have replied quickly to each of your emails.  You, however,
have always taken your time in this transaction.

Now you say 12 days before I receive a deposit?  What kind of a
businessman sends a large Bank Draft by surface mail?  Are you trying
to waste my time?  If you cannot afford overnight mail you cannot
afford this boat.

I have a buyer here with cash in hand.  If you are not serious I will
sell to him.

You agreed to $69,000 for this boat.  You said your draft was going to
be $49,900, of which $28,800 was deposit and $21,100 I would forward
immediately to your shipper.  Your shipper would pay me the balance of
$69,000 - $28,800 = $40,200 when he picks up the boat.

I will offer you this deal before I cancel our transaction.  If you
send me a draft for $40,200 and give me the courier tracking number by
the end of Monday, June 23, I will cash the draft immediately after
receiving it and send the $21,100 to your shipper.  When your other
draft arrives by surface mail I will release the boat to your shipper.

If I do not hear back from you with the tracking number for the new
draft I will consider our deal canceled.

If you are not serious about purchasing this boat do not waste any more of my time.

Another delay, no doubt while he scrambles to try to salvage this deal.  Then in quick succession:

Date: Tue, 24 Jun 2008
From: MARKUS William <markus.william@yahoo.com
Subject: Re: PAYMENT UPDATE

Hello,

I am shock at your email . but be infiormed that this is no joke and that you are to receive payments soon

Date: Tue, 24 Jun 2008
From: Jakk Murphy <jakk4murphy@yahoo.com>
Subject: VERIFICATION

Good day, my name is  JACK MURPHY i was instructed by MR. MARCUS WILLIAM in U.K.  to send you a check or bank draft as a payment for the boat he wants to purchase from your company. Could you please provide me with the following details that will enable me issue you a bank draft for the payment:
  
 (1) What name did you want the Draft to be issued on, or name or your
companies name?
 (2) What address should i mail the check to?
   
  You can reach me on this number:  1-416-823-xxxx Thanks, hope to hear
from you soon.
  
  MR. JACK MURPHY

Mr. Murphy is, in fact, in the Toronto area.  Mr. William was probably unable to get a counterfeit check to me, as per instructions, so arranged for an associate in Canada to stall me by asking for my contact information again.  I ignore him.  Another week goes by, then:

Date: Mon, 30 Jun 2008
From: MARKUS William <markus.william@yahoo.com
Subject: PLEASE RECONFIRM YOUR INFORMATION

Hi there ,

I guess that you had a wonderful weekend . I have spoken with my associate and i have instructed her to send payments in Canadian funds . Also i would not want to make any mistake in spelling your name on the draft and also in your address ( as this would cause an annoying delay ) as a result , i would please want you to reconfim your data you sent to me by sending it as well to my associate .

Do find her information below :

NAME  :Stephanie Morin
Email:   stephanie.accountreceivable@gmail.com  

Concerning my shippers information , we are in the last stage of the negotiation and as soon as we through i would forward his information to you and he would let you know when he woud commence shippment, ofcourse you would have gotten payments by then . We hope to be done with the negotiation in next couple of days , say 4 days Max .

Please do reconfim your data you sent to me by sending it as well to Stephanie Morin as well .

Looking foward to purchasing your boat .

Regards,

Markus William
Plot 44 ,
Leadenhall Street,
London,
EC3A 2DX,
UK
Tel: +44 (0)70 4571 0922

Mr. Murphy didn’t get my contact information, so perhaps Ms. Morin might.  She is also ignored.  Another week, then:

Date: Wed, 9 Jul 2008
From: MARKUS William <markus.william@yahoo.com
Subject: UPDATE :

Hello ,
I do hope that you had a lovely weekend . Please do note that ROBERT JOHNSON would also contact you soon . He is meant to represent me in Canada . So he would  arrange every thing on my behalf . Please do feel free to respond to him and also contact him . I would prefer that you contact him as soon as possible . Find his details below :
ROBERT JOHNSON
1-888-239-xxxx EXT 251.

Thank you
Markus William

 Another week, another crook, now a Mr. Johnson, gets ignored.

Then, out of the blue, on July 23 I get a call from “Anna Johnson of financiaLinx in Ottawa, agent to Mr. William.”  (I had provided my work number earlier.)  She says she was instructed by Mr. William to cut a check for me and needed to confirm my address.  She read me what she had, intentionally misspelling the street name.  I corrected it, pleasing her immensely.  Then she asks me which bank I deal with.  Isn’t that an odd question?  I do tell her, and she says she will “register” the check with my bank so that it will only be good there.  She says the check will reach me in two days.

By August 1st, still no check, but another phone call from Ms. Johnson, asking if I had received the check yet.  I tell her I hadn’t.  She says it was just mailed the day before.  Later that afternoon, what do you know?  The check was in the mail:

And we have a winner!  $75,500 for a 1973 Grampian 26.  World record price, I believe.

The check was issued on a different bank than I use.  That’s why I was asked about my bank.  If their forgery was from my bank, it would be detected instantly by a teller.  A plain, hand-addressed white envelope was used with no cover letter, and was mailed from Montreal rather than Ottawa.  Hardly what you’d expect from a company issuing $75K checks so often the signatures are pre-printed.

A little Googling shows there is no bank branch at that address, nor is there a company called financiaLinx in Ottawa, nor does reverse lookup show that local number is used by anyone, in addition to the several technical errors on the check.  The one I like is the hole punched in the bottom.  The numbers on the bottom of a check are printed in magnetic ink.  Bank machines use these numbers to read the check number (matches), bank transit number (too many zeros) and account number (also too many zeros).  By strategically punching that hole in the account number, bank machines would kick out the check.  A person would manually have to investigate to determine which bank account the check was issued on, further increasing the time until the forgery was detected.

After this long weekend I hear from Mr. William again:

Date: Mon, 4 Aug 2008
From: Markus William <markus.willaim@yahoo.com
Subject: PAYMENT SENT : PLEASE DO CONFIRM RECEIPT

Hello,
Top of the day to you . I have been informed that payment in the sum of $75,500 has been sent to you . Upon receipt , do cash payments, deduct your boat cost  and have the balance transfered to my shipping agent . My associate RUTH LEWIS or Her Assistant would be contacting please do respond and follow her instructions  . Please do confirm receipt . Speedy confirmation would be highly appreciated .
MARKUS WILLIAM

Hmm.  Ms. Lewis now.  I do confirm to him receiving the check.  The next day:

Date: Tue, 5 Aug 2008
From: Markus William <markus.willaim@yahoo.com
Subject: BOAT SALE -

Thank you for your email . And your email Confirmation as well  . I am directed to inform you that payments would be sent to you through ANNA JOHNSON . I have cancelled my contract with CHARLES and ROBERT JOHANSON ( MEIXIA ARTS & CRAFTS LTD. CHINA LIMITED)  . HIs charges are quite expensive and they are slow .
 
Anna Johnson would be contacting you to inform you on what steps to take . Please do follow her instructions and keep me updated .
 
 
Markus WILLIAM

He cancelled his contract with Mr. C. and R. Johanson (whoever they are)?  What, is there no honor among thieves?

Time to wrap things up. 

At lunchtime I replied to Mr. William with a terse note saying his forged check was uncovered by the bank with the bank manager saying “it looks like it was made by a kid with an inkjet printer”.  Obviously there is a network of contractors in this operation, so we might as well sow some conflict between them before begging off.

Not long after, Ms. Johnson called and asked if I received the check OK.  I tell her I did, and even had been to the bank.  She asks if the funds were released to me.  I ask her what she thinks happened at the bank, trying to sound suitably indignant.  She said she would have no idea and that I would have to tell her.  So I said they stamped the check “counterfeit” and handed it back to me.  Without a word she hung up.  Not even an attempt at denial.  Cutting her losses, no doubt.

Mind you, I didn’t actually go to the bank.  “Uttering” forged checks is a crime, and it would be hard for me to claim I didn’t know.

It turns out Nigeria is a hive of these scammers, not just for advertised goods, but also the foreign lottery, unclaimed bank account, rich assassinated dictator’s widow needs help, and various other on-line scams.  What we’ve seen here is a classic example of how a scheme works.

The bottom line is they want to trick you into putting cash in a wire transfer service like Western Union or Moneygram.  In this case the scam was initially that a “client” owed money to the buyer, and would send me the money instead.  The scam changed to his “agent” sending me a check that was inadvertently made out for more than the boat’s price.  In either case I was to be persuaded to wire the excess money back.

The problem turns out to be that banks release funds from a deposited check before the check actually clears.  In the U.S. this is the law.  You check your balance after a couple days, there’s the money, you think the check was good so you wire off the funds to your scammer.  Unfortunately when the check does bounce back, your bank goes after you for the money you withdrew.

Western Union and Moneygram are anonymous ways to transfer cash.  Once it’s sent, it’s gone and is irretrievable.  All a scammer needs is the MTCN (Money Transfer Control Number) to collect the money anywhere in the world.  A common ploy is to tell the victim to put his brother’s name on the transfer, so the money can’t be collected until the victim changes the name.  This isn’t true.  Western Union doesn’t verify the identity of the person picking up money.

While the scammers are primarily in Nigeria, they have been finding willing accomplices in the U.S. and Canada.  In June of 2008, Edna Fiedler of Olympia, Washington, was sentenced to two years imprisonment for sending out more than $600,000 in forged checks that had been sent to her from Nigeria.  When arrested she was preparing to send out another million dollar’s worth of forged checks.  In December 2007 the Royal Canadian Mounted Police seized over 14,000 scam lottery checks in Montreal (where my check came from, incidentally).  Police describe the forged checks as being sent in bulk from Nigeria to North America where they are personalized and sent to individual victims.  It looks like my scammer had gone through several of these associates before “Anna Johnson” got involved.

If you sell your boat it’s very easy to avoid these crooks.  They’re in a numbers game.  They contact as many sellers as they can find, looking for the few who might fall for their scam.  They can’t be bothered with convincing skeptical sellers.  If you don’t reply positively immediately they look elsewhere for their next victim.  For instance, my Grampian 26 got a similar inquiry from “a boat dealer in Ecuador”.   I said I’d be happy to sell him the boat, but will only accept cash in person or money by wire transfer.  Never heard back, no doubt because I was obviously onto the scam. 

These scammers don’t want your boat.  They want cash.  So all the cons are designed to get you to send them cash, whether they claim a “client” who owes them money sends you the (too big) check, or their “agent” makes the check out for too much, or one of a hundred other excuses to get you to send them real cash for their bogus checks.  If a buyer tries this with you, send the check back uncashed and refuse to send them any form of payment.

With the prevalence of forged certified checks, if you don’t know a buyer well enough to trust them, the safest way to transfer funds seems to be by bank wire transfer.  In this the buyer’s bank wires money directly from the buyer’s account into your account.  That said, however, local crooks have a scam for this, too.  To do the wire transfer the buyer needs your bank account number.  Banks will allow a third person to deposit a check into your account if he knows the account number.  A scammer can deposit a forged check unbeknownst to you, which shows up as a big deposit two days later.  “Wow”, you think, “that wire transfer came through”, so you hand over your boat.  A week or two later the forged check is discovered and the money removed from your account by the bank. But by now you boat is gone.  So it’s best to verify with your bank that the money did come from a wire transfer, and not a check deposited by a third party, before handing over the property.

Oh, and my boat did sell to a nice young family, although not for a world record price.  I ended up with a genuine counterfeit Nigerian souvenir check, you (hopefully) are a little bit safer for having read this story, and some crooks wasted their resources while providing us with some entertainment.  What can I say?  Life is good.

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