PITTSBURGH - A target 11 investigation uncovered counterfeit checks, that looked so real even bank tellers could be fooled, being sent by crooks to people advertising on Craigslist. Consumer Investigator Robin Taylor found out how the scheme works.
Craigslist.com is a great place to sell things, but you have to be careful because thieves are going over the ads, looking for gullible victims.
They'll pretend to be interested in what you're selling and then will trick you into sending money overseas. Cindy Cohen called me after she had a run-in with one of these crooks.
Cohen operates a driving school and ran ad on Craigslist, but what happened next really caught her off guard.
A man claiming to want lessons for his daughter sent her a check for $3,000 for lessons that cost $350.
"I was to deposit the check and send him back a portion of the check through Western Union," said Cohen, of Cohen & Galati School of Driving.
It sounded fishy, but the check looked legitimate.
"It looks authentic to me. I mean it looks real. It says Wells Fargo on it," said Cohen.
Then the urgent emails and phone calls started, demanding Cindy wire the money immediately.
"He had a very thick foreign accent," said Cohen.
That's when she realized it was all a ploy designed to trick her into wiring money overseas.
"I emailed him back and told him I was going to turn the check in to the FBI. At that point, I had gotten a phone call from him and he was very upset and very rude to me," said Cohen.
The U.S. Postal Service investigates this crime, and gets 20 to 40 counterfeit checks a day in Pittsburgh alone.
"There's usually some type of excuse for why the check is over the amount that you're asking for. That should definitely be a red flag," said Tammy Mayle, a postal inspector in Pittsburgh.
Here's how the scheme works. You deposit the counterfeit check and then wire money, which can be picked up anywhere in the world. By the time the bank figures out the check is fake, the crooks have cashed in and the money is long gone. Now, you're responsible for the money you just wired overseas.
"It's embarrassing because the average person, they lose between $3,000 and $4,000 on these scams," said Mayle.
Cohen was smart. She figured it out and didn't cash the check, and now she wants others to be aware.
"I would imagine a lot of people would take a check like this and cash it, and they would lose their money," said Cohen.
The crooks are actively targeting people on Craigslist, with emails and bogus checks, and there's an urgency that just shouldn't be there.
The best advice I can give, don't ever wire money to a stranger.