Beware of Scammers!

I regularly receive e-mails from sellers saying they were the target of a scam attempt, so these scum are definitely actively reading this site. Please keep your wits about you and don't fall for their tricks! (Read on for more information...)

I received a letter from a person who listed an engine for sale on the Ultralight Home Page classifieds and was contacted by a "buyer" who attempted to scam him. An excerpt from his letter follows:

"I am currently advertising an ultralight engine for sale in your classified ads. A gentleman from Nigeria contacted me and offered to buy the engine. He offered to send more than the combined purchase price and shipping costs, asking I send the balance remaining once the engine was shipped and all costs determined. His goal was apparently to get me to send him the engine and cash before I knew the check was no good.

This appears to be an internet scam. The cashiers check he sent seems to be a forgery. My bank informs me that this is a very common activity on the internet these days, particularly involving parties from Nigeria."

The moral of the story of course, is to make sure you have the actual funds in hand before shipping anything to a buyer. (Wait for the checks to actually clear, etc.) This may seem like common sense, but I felt I should post something just to make everyone aware that these people are out there... In a close knit group like the ultralight community, we are generally fairly trusting of other ultralighters, but as with any group of people, there are scum out there too, so be careful.

What can you do?

The letter excerpted above was the first report I had received regarding attempted scam activity by persons reading the Ultralight Home Page classified ads, but since that time, I have received many reports from other people of a similar nature. The basic premise is usually that the buyer offers to overpay for the item, and the seller is requested to return the balance along with the item itself. They hope that the seller will do this before they discover that the "certified check" is counterfeit. If you receive such an offer, you can be sure that it is a scam. At this point, you can either ignore the "buyer" or you can go through the motions and file a complaint. I have received a few queries from sellers with ads in the classifieds asking my opinion as to how to proceed after being contacted by a scammer. Following is the advice I have been giving them:

Its really up to you, whether or not you want to spend the time on it. If it were me, I would report it at the very least. If the scammer is someone from out of the country, I don't know how much can be done but you never know. There's also a chance that it could be someone in the US, or they are working with someone in the US, which would be a lot easier to track down. I found the following site:

It was set up by the FBI and allows you to report Internet Fraud. Your report will be forwarded to the appropriate agency.

Here is another site I found with some links to applicable agencies:

Its up to you of course, but if it were me, I might be inclined to "agree" to the deal so that they will send the fake check. Its one more piece of evidence against them, and may be helpful to authorities if they pursue this particular case. (And of course, if they don't actually send the check, I guess it could be argued that no fraud took place.) Also, it is my understanding that if they were to send the check through the US Mail, it would be mail fraud, and be upgraded to felony status.

I'm not sure how well fingerprints adhere to paper, but just to be on the safe side, I would recommend opening it very carefully (wearing gloves so as to not disturb any prints or other evidence that might be on it, and handle it as little as possible). Or you might not want to open it at all, if you can see through the envelope with a light or something and can verify what is in there. I would probably seal the check, the envelope and anything else they might have sent in a ziplock bag, then hang onto it in case the authorities ever ask for it. One other benefit to having them send the check is that means they will have to spend some time to get the check together, mail everything out, etc. In this case, they will be the only ones out any money since they have to pay postage and creating those counterfeit checks probably isn't inexpensive. So you could at least derive some pleasure out of wasting their time and some of their money. But that's just me. They will probably contact you afterwards to try to get the money sent right away (before the check is discovered as counterfeit). You should print out all correspondence that you have had with the person (if the correspondence was via e-mail, be sure to print it out with full headers - your e-mail program should have an option do display all the headers).

One caveat that you might want to think about is if you have them send the check... Obviously you will need to give them some sort of address, which begs the question, do you want these people to know your home address? If there is a PO Box or perhaps a work address or something along those lines which you could use, I would be inclined to give them that instead. Just a thought.

Of course, I would not recommend cashing the check since that would potentially destroy the evidence and will probably gain you nothing but a bounced check service fee from the bank.

Be careful out there!