Jim Fisher

Scammers are going old-school again. A friend of mine popped into the office a couple of weeks ago, handed me an envelope, and asked me what I thought of it. Inside the envelope was 3 legitimate-looking checks for $998.33 each ($2,995 total) made out to my friend. Enclosed with the checks was an official-looking letter from a “Mystery Shopper” company. The instructions said that my friend was chosen at random to participate in a Mystery Shopper program. All he had to do was to deposit all three checks in his bank account, travel to an Apple Store, and purchase 2 Apple gift cards and 1 iTunes gift card for a total of $2,695. He was then required to text the gift card numbers to the Mystery Shopper people. For his trouble, my friend got to keep the remaining $300.

Easy money, right? Wrong. Here’s what would have happened had my friend allowed himself to be roped into the scam: his bank would have accepted the checks, my friend would buy the gift cards, texts the gift card numbers to the scammer, and, knowing my friend, would buy $300 worth of beer with the proceeds.

The scammers would then use the gift card numbers to purchase expensive merchandise from the Apple Store. A couple of days later, my friend would get a sad call from the bank informing him that the 3 checks were fake, and the funds would be removed from his account. My friend would be on the hook for the entire $2,985.

I talked with a banker friend of mine to get his opinion on whether or not my friend would have been on the hook for the $2,995. He said that Federal law requires that banks reimburse clients for certain kinds of scams, mainly electronic scams. For example, if your bank account is hacked and thieves transfer your entire balance to some other account, you have 48 hours to report the breach. After that, the bank is not obligated to reimburse you one penny. They still might pay you back, but they aren’t obligated under the law. But this particular check scam is non-reimbursable. My friend would have been out $2,995 and no way to get it back unless he owned the bank.

My banker friend also told me that tellers are trained to look out for these kinds of things. So if you show up at the bank with this kind of thing, you might be asked to speak with the branch manager. The manager may warn you of the dangers of proceeding but they cannot stop you from making a bad decision. So if you’re approached by the branch manager, please pay attention.

Everyone is susceptible to this kind of scam, of course, but the usual targets are our older folks who simply aren’t able to recognize the dangers as well as they once did. So please share this story with your favorite old person.

Jim Fisher owns Excel Computer Services in Florence. Reach him at www.ExcelAL.com