12 On Your Side Alert: Check Scam for the Computer Age

By Aaron Gilchrist - bio | email

Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - This week we told about more and more people turning to direct sales to make ends meet in an ugly economy. A Deltaville woman thought she was safe selling the time-tested Avon cosmetics, but she almost got taken by an old-fashion check scam for the computer age.

Stefanie Edwards just started selling Avon products about five months ago. The company now makes it possible to buy products online. And that's given crooks a new avenue to rip people off.

For generations Avon has been calling on women to the tune of $9 billion in sales in 2007 across 140 countries. The cosmetics business was a no-brainer for Stefanie Edwards when the economy took a dive late last year. She began selling products from her home near the Chesapeake Bay and making herself available to internet customers.

"I got this email and as you can see, it's a big order. I got excited," said Stefanie.

A woman found Stefanie's contact info on the Avon website, and over several correspondences ordered products totaling $360.

"She said she was new to online. She didn't know how to use the credit, debit card thing online. She'd send me a bank certified check and that her moving company would come pick up the products from my home," Stefanie said.

The check arrived via UPS made out for $2,500 and on a closer look, had scam written all over it.

"I was puzzled on what to do with the difference, why the amount and everything. And then she came back with this one, my boss overwrote the check," Stefanie said.

Stefanie wanted this first big internet sale to be legit, she got online and on the phone checking every little detail she could to validate the check. Nothing panned out. Anybody selling anything over the internet, they're a target for this.

In a small town like Deltaville, life is all about boating. And Stephanie would be the first to tell you, you wouldn't expect con men to target somebody here. But the experts say scam artists will find you and it's up to you to stay in control.

"If you're online, you have a business, there's a way in for the scammer to make contact with you," said U.S. Postal Inspector Michael Romano.

The postal inspection service investigates scams that come through the mail. Like in Stefanie's case, the scammer usually directs you to deposit the check and wire the difference back to the sender.

"That's a red flag right there. People typically are not going to send you more money for what the product is that you're selling," said Romano.

People who fall for it, deposit these checks and then spend the money. They end up owing the bank while most scammers are long gone.

"If it's too good to be true, it definitely is," said Romano.

"If you have a gut instinct that tells you something's not right, check it out," Stefanie said.

You also need to be skeptical to avoid legal problems of your own. Both your bank and the government could hall you into court for depositing a fraudulent check. The postal inspection service has several resources to help you avoid this type of fraud.

U.S. Postal Inspection service hotline: 877-876-2455

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