12 years ago
My son graduated from High School this June, and he's been looking for
a job while he goes to trade school to learn about plumbing. Last
week, he told me he might get a job cleaning apartments.
He talked on the phone to the man who'd placed the ad on Craigslist:
someone about to move into the next town over, who needed help getting
an apartment cleaned up before they arrived. The guy said he could
have the job and that he would be paid $500 per week. Not exactly
minimum wage, but close: I told my son that the money is green, and
that he can't be too picky in this economy, and that if he did a good
job cleaning that the apartment owner might hire him to do plumbing.
This morning, the UPS driver delivered an overnight delivery "Urgent
Letter", addressed to my son, which contained a check for $2,733.00
dollars, and a sheet of paper containing a typewritten message that
"For confirmation of the check delivery, notify the issuer with the email
... which, needless to say, puzzled the hell out of me.
I thought that the check might have been issued because of a bequest
from my mother, who was gathered up in 2007: her estate has just been
settled, and I assumed that she had made a bequest to my son that I
hadn't known about.
Still, the lack of paperwork seemed odd, but my son was eager to cash
the check: he wanted to buy a car. So, I called the issuing bank,
which is in Alabama, and asked them to verify the check. The check
showed a firm called "Goyer Logistics Group, LLC", with an address in
Miami Beach, Florida. The bank had no record: neither the account
number, nor the issuer were on their books.
Neither 411.com nor anywho.com showed any company with that name, not
in Miami Beach, not in Florida. There was no number for the name on
the UPS envelope: "Julius Carl" from Atlanta, Georgia.
Now, I'm as gullible as the next guy, and at least as willing to
believe that UPS delivers four-figure checks to unemployed
Nineteen-year-olds, but I had to break the bad news to my son and
explain that the check was a fraud. I told him that if he sent an
email to the address that had accompanied the check, he would receive
instructions to send most of the money to somewhere else and that the
check would bounce.
Still, I called the Secret Service - which is in charge of wire fraud
- and asked for an agent I know who gave a talk at a computer security
group I belong to. He had been transferred, but no matter: I spoke to
a different agent, and she told me it was an obvious Nigerian "419"
scam. While I was on the phone with her, my son came into the room and
said he had received an email which explained everything.
The email he had received was from "Daryl", the guy who had
interviewed him on the phone and offered him $500 per week to clean an
apartment. Daryl wanted my son to wire most of the money to a "travel
agent" in Arkansas, with a long-winded explanation of how they needed
the agent to purchase a plane ticket so his wife could travel from
England to the U.S. and emphasizing that the money needed to be sent
The Secret Service agent said that there is nothing they can do: even
if my son had followed instructions and lost the money he wired to
Arkansas, it wasn't a high enough amount to involve them. She also
said that they get thousands of these reports every day, and although
she was gracious enough to invite me to send copies, she made it clear
it would be just for a report.
The Secret Service can't get involved: it's not enough money and he
didn't even lose anything. The local police, adept as they are at
issuing parking tickets and responding to traffic accidents, are
nonetheless not likely to have the resources needed to track down a
throw-away cell phone, or a "travel agent" in Arkansas, or "Julius
Carl" from Atlanta.
I won't kid you: this is scary. First, it's scary because my
inclination was to justify the existing of a check that arrived with
no documentation or explanation, by attributing it to my mother's
generosity even though I had been present at the reading of her will,
and it never mentioned my son (or any of her grandchildren, come to
that). Second, it's scary because, even though my son had answered a
spam email and had provided his name and address, he was interviewed
by telephone, by a person who spoke (according to my son) English with
the same accent as most other people he knows.
This is scary because it could have happened to my kid, who is trying
to find a job, and who doesn't have any experience in the world, and
who has lived with a computer and email since he was in grade
school. It is scary because I have to check his credit reports and
mine, because I have to admit that our banking system is a creaking
and decrepit horse-drawn-buggy with a lot of electronic duct-tape
holding it together, and because that system could have run over an
impressionable and innocent young man.
It's not an abstraction anymore. This could have happened to me and