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An Online Scammer Tries and Fails
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
July 27, 2020

S
cams. It starts with someone posting an ad. A buyer contacts them. They have no intention of spending a dime. They are there to get the seller’s attention and eventually, their money.

This often takes place via text after the scammer targets a seller from websites hosting ads like TownDock, however, this scam long predates the days of internet ads. Scammers have been posing as fake buyers since the dawn of classified ads.

Doug Sligh placed an ad on TownDock to sell his boat for $10,000. He received a text message. A person calling themselves ‘Alan Micheal’ was interested in purchasing Sligh’s 22-foot Sailmaster. Good news, right?

Sligh and the fraudulent check
The scammer who contacted Doug Sligh crafted a next-to-flawless fraudulent cashier’s check, most likely by hacking the bank where the check came from.

First, Micheal asked Sligh about the condition of the boat and if there was anything he should know that the pictures did not show. Sligh confirmed it was in good shape and the ad tells him everything about the condition he needs to know.

This was the only question Micheal asked. He was sold. Micheal offered to pay full price and said he would send his shipper down to pick up the boat for him. He would also throw in an extra $100 for Sligh to take the boat off the market until he received the check. This was when Sligh began to question Micheal’s intentions. He called Towndock publisher Keith Smith.

Sligh asked Keith, “Do you have any experience with this? He said, ‘Yes; it’s a scam.’ So I knew pretty much from the beginning that it was not legit but I decided to play along with this guy.”

After agreeing to the offer and sharing his P.O. box address, Sligh received a cashier’s check in the mail a few days later. Micheal texted Sligh every day wanting to know if he had picked up the check yet.

Sligh went to the post office on July 11 to collect the check which was for well above the asking price. The amount was $14,900.

Sligh and the fraudulent check
The original photo posted with Sligh’s ad.

On the following Monday, July 13, Sligh called the fraud office of Cypress Bank in Texas, where the check was from. “The woman in the fraud office said I was the third person with calls on scam checks from the same guy,” Sligh said. “Another call came into the office after mine so they had four calls to the bank.”

Once Sligh had the check, Micheal asked him to deposit it and let him know when he did. Sligh had no intention of ever depositing the check, but to continue scamming the scammer, let Micheal think that he had. Once the check was ‘deposited,’ Micheal told Sligh he would send him further instructions on what he wanted to do with the overage. Micheal had to compensate his shipper who would be picking up the boat. He claimed this was the reasoning for the overage.

“He said what I want you to do is go to Walmart and buy a purchase order for $4700 and that would give me a $200 profit over what I’d wanted,” Sligh said. “He said to send it to him [through] FedEx with a tracking number and to let him know what the tracking number was.”

The address Micheal gave him was in Winchester, Virginia. Sligh did some digging. It was a legitimate address for an apartment complex. This was the alleged shipper’s address.

“I said I’m going to be going out of town, I lied, so I needed this shipper to contact me right away,” Sligh said. “He said some guy named Eddie Bellett is going to contact me.”

Sligh and the fraudulent check
The text exchange between the scammer and Sligh. (click for the big scammy text view)

A man claiming to be Bellett texted Sligh. Sligh tried to call Bellett but the number was not in service. Sligh assumed Bellett and Micheal were the same person. Since neither Micheal nor Bellett spoke to Sligh on the phone, the scammer could remain anonymous.

At this point, Micheal asked Sligh if he contacted the shipper to confirm he would be picking up his boat in the morning. The shipper never asked Sligh where the boat was located or if the boat was in the water. Micheal never requested to see the boat either, which made Sligh even more suspicious since the boat is over 50-years-old.

“The woman at Cypress Bank said someone had hacked into their cashier’s check system and pulled the image of the check out,” Sligh said. “She said this same group of people or same person had a different scam the week before and the checks were smaller amounts for household appliances that people were selling over the internet.”

Scammers often target online advertisements and send the seller a check for more than they are asking for the product. This is a regularly used strategy and one way to spot fake offers, especially if they only communicate through text.

Sligh and the fraudulent check
Sligh and the boat that caught the scammer’s eye.

After going through this experience, Sligh has some advice for TownDock readers who may be selling anything online.

“If it seems too good to be true it probably is,” Sligh said. “If you place an ad online and someone wants to buy it sight unseen, doesn’t try to negotiate the price and takes your word for everything in the ad then there has to be something fishy about it. My advice is be careful. If somebody sends you a cashier’s check and asks you to deposit it immediately or if he’s more worried about the money than the product he’s bought, there’s something going on.”


Story & photos by Katie Kane

Posted Monday July 27, 2020 by Katie Kane


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