I sell some spare books through my other site. (The book-sale page is here, and I will be adding dozens more titles this week.) In the last month, I’ve had two different (I think) people try to pull a variation on the old Nigerian e-mail scam, ordering books and then sending, or promising to send, a check for much more than the agreed-upon price with a request that I send the remainder on to a third party to whom they (allegedly) owe money. This is far more irritating than an ordinary scam, because I have to waste time getting out the books, making sure their condition is as advertised, calculating shipping costs, and writing and reading e-mails about the supposed sales.
My question is what I can do about, and to, these bastards.
In one case, I have a name and address in Longford, Ireland, but no check, so it’s not clear that a crime has been committed. Should I contact the Irish authorities anyway? Which authorities? Should I start with their U.S. embassy?
In the second case, I have an actual obviously-fake cashier’s check, but no address for the sender, who claims to be in England. The check, with an entirely different name and no return address, came with a Ghanaian stamp and postmark. (To add insult to injury, they didn’t even spell my name right.) I do have the name and address of the person to whom I am supposed to send the $4502 left over from the cashier’s check after I subtract the $298 cost of eight mostly-very-obscure titles on Plato and Aristotle. I imagine this information must be genuine, or my own purely theoretical check would be uncashable. (Purely theoretical not only because I’m not a moron, but because I’ve never had $4502 in the bank in my life. It’s a good thing Friday is payday, since my various bank and credit union balances are currently $10.78, $4.11, $5.47, and $3.01, for a grand total of $23.37.) Just to complicate things, the supposed buyer has promised to send his “shipper” (still unnamed) to pick up the books in person, and lately has mentioned a cargo container.
So, what should I do with the check, and to the scammers? There are some obvious possibilities, besides just contacting the Irish and Australian authorities:
- Publish all the names and addresses here? Perhaps my readers know someone in Longford, Ireland or Burwood East, Victoria, Australia who could knock on the door to see who answers? Should I scan and post the fake check? The better parts of the e-mails? (Not the complete texts: too dull.)
- Play dumb but interested and see if I can get them to spend some money on trans-Atlantic telephone calls, or at least on more Ghanaian air mail stamps?
- Pretend that the check was damaged in the mail and humbly beg them to send a replacement? I could put it back in the envelope, lay it on a grease spot in the parking lot with bits of gravel over and under it, run over it a few times, and then tear it in half. If I claimed the Post Office had delivered it in that condition — with a JPEG as proof — could I get them to send another?
- One of my students (thanks, Nik!) suggested sending $4502 in Monopoly money to the Australian address. That’s more than my Monopoly set can easily spare, so I could just scan some Monopoly money and send single-sided copies, perhaps cut out with pinking shears to rub in their fakeness.
- I am slightly tempted to e-mail and tell them how incompetent they are. Unfortunately, that would involve telling them exactly what they did wrong, e.g. [a] the check numbers in the upper right corner and the lower margin don’t match, [b] the paper feels like a xerox, not a check, [c] what kind of idiot sends a check for $4800 to a stranger in an envelope without a return address?, [d] what honest purchaser would ever have thought that I would have five copies each of Anthony Kenny, Aristotle’s Theory of the Will, and G. J. De Vries, Miscellaneous Notes on Plato (Mededelingen der Koninklijke Nederlandse Adaedemie van Wetenschappen, Afd. Letterkunde, Nieuwe Reeks – Deel 38 – No. 1), among other titles — at one point ‘Zes’ was asking for five copies each of all eight Plato and Aristotle titles on my site. Of course, such advice, however satisfying to give, might help them get it right for the next target, and may even be illegal.
I’m leaning towards #4. Suggestions may be placed in the comments.
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