PHUKET: A reader wrote to me, asking if she’s been scammed. Ends up, she’s been taken for a ride, and the scam artist threatened to sue. Here’s how it happened, in her words, with a few minor edits:
“Woody, I ran a series of ads in the Phuket Gazette, advertising an item I have for sale. I got an email from firstname.lastname@example.org, who said he wanted to buy it. We settled on a price, and this is what he wrote to me:
‘Okay I agree with the price I will pay u cos I know it worth more than it, am on contract work in UK at the moment so The shipping agent will do the pick up of it and all papers work and collection at your location….
I will be paying through paypal is fast and secure as well, i paid last seller on here transferred to his paypal last time i bought a bike and was well good transaction….. You will have full payment with no any charges on payment…. Thanks
If you don’t have an account with paypal…. you can Sign-up for one now through.paypal.com, is well safe and secure and as soon as you have done that get back to me with your paypal-email, so that i can login soonest to my paypal to complete the payment ok.. I wait your soonest reply.’
“I didn’t have a PayPal account, so I went to PayPal.com and set one up. I sent him my PayPal address, so he could pay me. This is what he wrote back:
‘I have just complete the payment now through my account and i have added extra charges of $400 for the shipment fee for my shipping agent and i believe that the PayPal will have send you the confirmation for my payment receipt confirmed with them to your PayPal email address……………. i will want want you to make sure you send the shipping agent the money for the pick up, so that they can schedule a time and come for the pick-up, cos that was how the last seller that i bought from as well was picked up by my shipping agent and was well safe. I wait to hear from you soonest ok.’
“And sure enough I received a series of messages from PayPal saying that Donovan Richard had sent me US$1,050, with a Transaction ID and a breakdown of charges: $650 for the merchandise, plus $400 for transport. The last message from PayPal stated the Confirmed Transport Company (sic) is William Corbett from Devon, UK. This message from PayPal went on to say:
‘Status : Pending – Transport Company Awaiting Payment.
NOTE: This is to confirm to you that the said amount has been successfully transferred by the Sender and been deducted from his Account which is ready to be credited into your account, been that this Payment has been subjected to be a Payment for a MERCHANDISE purchased from you, we reserve the right to make sure this transaction is safe and secured also to verify the legitimacy level on this transaction because of the high sum of funds involved.’
“I sent an email to the buyer and it became apparent that he wanted me to send US$400 to William Corbett in Devon, via Western Union. I also checked my PayPal account online, and there was no indication that I had US$1,050 coming in, reserved or not. So I basically told the guy to either cancel the order or just send the funds to me, for the amount of the merchandise.
I got back an email from PayPal that said:
‘FBI: Federal Bureau of Investigation.
It is important we know the status of the transaction between you and “Donovan Richard” otherwise “Legal Action” may be taken against you since you have not replied to the confirmation of payment made to your PayPal account by ( Donovan Richard ).
We believed you entered into agreement by requesting money through PayPal and by non response to the payment confirmation made to your account you have violate Phuket Gazette.net* and PayPal agreement. However the buyer has already contacted us in other to make report about your non response. We are ensuring to make PayPal a safer place, therefore we need to set confidence on our users. We request for the Scanned Receipt and the Western Union to the shipper in less than 24hours hours and we will fund the money into your account or face the consequences of “Legal Action”. We have your information that we will use to track.’
“What should I do, Woody?”
Let me preface this by saying that the reader sent me copies of the emails from PayPal, and they all look legitimate – PayPal logos, a PayPal return address, even official-looking tracking numbers and ID numbers. If it weren’t for the atrocious English in the “PayPal” emails, I could see how the reader might’ve been very, very concerned.
But it’s all a scam. From beginning to end. It looks like our scammer has included Phuket in his list of target locations , although I’m sure he’s bullying a lot of advertisers around the world and I bet he makes a lot of money off it.
The heart of the scam – and the big tip-off to anybody who’s reading – is the reference to Western Union. Anybody with a Western Union transaction number, knowledge of where the money was sent from and to, and an ID with the correct name on it can collect any amount. In this case, our scammer undoubtedly had a friend in Devon with a fake ID in the name of William Corbett. If the Gazette advertiser had sent the money to the “shipping agent,” she never would’ve seen the money again – and would’ve had exactly zero recourse, in any court, anywhere.
Western Union and Moneygram dead drops are a favorite trick of botnet ripoff artists. Over the past few years, hundreds of millions of stolen dollars have flowed from banks through Western Union – frequently with recruited mules in the middle – to the botnet operators in Eastern Europe. It’s quick, reliable, easy, and absolutely untraceable. Super high tech ripoffs have to get the money laundered somehow, and Western Union provides a remarkably good conduit.
There’s nobody at fault, really. PayPal certainly couldn’t be held responsible because the scammer had faked everything, including the PayPal return address. (Remember that faking email return addresses – known as “spoofing” – is quite simple.) Western Union is doing what Western Union has done for a hundred years. And with the bucks passing through two or three different countries, the chances of the scammer getting stung are basically nil.
Be careful. It’s a jungle out there.
With Woody hunkered down writing a book, the weekly Computer Clinics are taking a new turn. Until Woody emerges with an 860-page copy of “Windows 8 All-In-One For Dummies” under his arm, around May or June, Seth Bareiss will hold computer sessions every-other Wednesday afternoon, from 1 to 3pm. If you have a Windows problem that needs to be solved, drop by one of Seth’s free afternoon sessions at the Sandwich Shoppes. Details in the Phuket Gazette Events Calendar.
Sponsored by the Phuket Gazette and Khun Woody’s Sandwich Shoppes.
Live Wire is Gazette columnist Woody Leonhard’s weekly snapshot of all things internet in Phuket.
*NB: The Phuket Gazette is not a party to any payment terms or agreements between buyers and sellers of goods or services
— Woody Leonhard
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