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I listed a car for sale on behalf of a 90 year old, and attracted scammers. One has now sent me a "check" for $4000, for a $1500 car purchase. I'm supposed to deposit the check, then pay the tow truck driver in gift cards. Yeah, right.

The check's routing number matches the printing, a major US bank. The tracking number shows the envelope's origin in small town in a different state. I'm supposed to text a different person. So basically I have a bogus check, but some real contact information, and probably a real city, for the scammer.

Who might care? Is it even worth my time to try and report this: is there any chance of prosecution?

I've tried before with Western Union and MoneyGram fraud, but their fraud departments are clearly not interested.

Update: My local police don't care, because it's "internet fraud", they referred me to https://www.ic3.gov which will take zero action, because they are not funded to that level. I will try local police in Paducah, KY which is where the tracking number says the UPS letter originated (though it has a different return address). Needless to say, Craigslist and NextDoor do not care. TD Bank took the information and check number, saying they could not tell me anything, except to make it clear they do not care, since there was no loss.

By the way: I had to list a phone number for the scammer, so I gave my local police non-emergency number. Heh heh.

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    Please update this question with your efforts and results. I am pretty much convinced the financial institutions do not care because there is no harm to them. – Pete B. Sep 19 at 10:54
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    @PeteB. Why wouldn't the bank care? I would imagine that notifying a bank of an account being used maliciously is exactly the type of thing they would like to know about. Letting the bank know now before multiple frauds are committed through this account should undoubtedly save the bank some headaches. It's very possible that the account doesn't even belong to the "buyer". – MonkeyZeus Sep 19 at 14:42
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    @MonkeyZeus because when you have CC/debut fraud, or check fraud, and try to bring it to their attention they don't care. In the card fraud case, the cost goes to the merchant. If Bryce followed through with the scammers plans, he would owe bad check fees, be out the car, and the gift cards paid to the driver. They simply don't care. – Pete B. Sep 19 at 15:54
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    @PeteB. I have faith in my bank caring. I don't thinking that banking (ba-dum-tss) on charging customers fees in light of fraud is a good model to pursue. So your solution to the problem is to perpetuate not caring because you think that others do not care? I think that's exactly the attitude which is least needed and attempting to at least inform the bank shouldn't do any harm. – MonkeyZeus Sep 19 at 16:07
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    Straight up - stop touching and handling the check / cheque Put it in a plastic bag, handling only by the edges, and leave it there. Otherwise you will be obliterating any latenf prints on the paper. It may be a complete waste of time, but if there's some chance your actions may help, why not take a moment to try and preserve evidence. – Criggie Sep 20 at 21:03
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Places you could report this include:

  • Your local police
  • The bank on which the check was drawn
  • The site on which you listed the car and were contacted by the scammer
  • The phone company that owns the number you were given (if you can determine that, which you might well not be able to).

I'm not sure when you say "Is there any chance of prosecution", whether you mean prosecution of the scammer or prosecution of yourself. I would suggest that if you don't try to deposit the check yourself, the chances of you being prosecuted over this are exceedingly small, but that is purely my lay-person's opinion and IANAL. I don't think anyone can answer as to the likelihood of prosecution of the scammer.

Personally, I would start at the top of the list above and at least let them know; if they're not interested you haven't lost much (maybe a few minutes on the phone).

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    I'd start with the bank from which the check was drawn. You really don't want to put yourself in the position of talking to police when you don't have to. – R.. Sep 19 at 13:29
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    @R.., that is surely a cultural / geographic thing. Personally (white middle class person in the UK) if I had the slightest concern about something like this the police would be my first port of call. I guess for a black person in the US the same would not be true. – Vicky Sep 19 at 16:24
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    Racism can make it far more dangerous, but in the US there are all sorts of ways that involving yourself with police unnecessarily can endanger you, even if you're white. For example if the scammers you're reporting happen to be involved with one of their own (which might have above-average likelihood just by survivorship bias), you could very well end up with them trying to pin something on you instead. – R.. Sep 19 at 17:36
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    @Vicky If you tell the Bank, they can immediately Cancel the cheque in your possession, investigate any other cheques from the same book, and - if they determine cheque has been stolen from a real person - contact them to let them know about attempted fraud against their account! You may not get the scammer arrested, but contacting the bank has a far higher likelihood of protecting other potential victims. – Chronocidal Sep 20 at 13:05
  • When they say "is it even worth my time", I think that suggests that they're asking about whether the scammer will be prosecuted. – Barmar Sep 20 at 17:35
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You asked,

Who might care? Is it even worth my time to try and report this: is there any chance of prosecution?

Who might care is a bit of a broad question because it may differ from scenario to scenario. However, in general, there may be law enforcement parties who are interested. The US government maintains a website listing resources for reporting fraud and scams. Any time you are subject to a scam or fraud attempt, it's worth taking a few seconds to review that website to help you determine if, or how, to report the incident to the authorities.

However, you've raised another important possibility: Reporting to financial institutions.

Although this will vary in some fringe cases (Assuming no actual fraud has happened in a given case, Western Union is generally not interested in simply hearing that a fraudster asked you to use them, given the "popularity" of their services among scammers being a well-established fact), in general, if a fraud attempt is based on involvement of a given financial institution, they may be very interested in knowing about it.

Some scammers are dumb, and just randomly plan their attacks. No one worries about those scammers. But many scammers are smart. They will research their targets and attempt to exploit known loopholes. These scammers can cause significant losses - not only for consumers, but for financial institutions. Even when banking regulation essentially dictates that the victim should be left on the hook (i.e. for depositing a check that bounces), it's very often the case that the institution ends up at a loss anyways (good luck recovering thousands in losses from a customer who literally has no money). And, in some cases, regulation specifically leaves the institution on the hook (i.e. if the fraud is based on exploiting check endorsement requirements that the bank doesn't implement cleanly).

For instance, scams involving remote check deposit via a mobile banking app are often targeted based on known factors that a given institution uses when processing those checks. Some institutions only visually inspect checks that fail image verification when under a certain dollar amount, so scammers may try to exploit that by running fraudulent checks under that amount. A bank being targeted as such will have a critical interest in knowing about fraud attempts, because it can allow them to change their monitoring techniques to avoid being involved in fraud.

When a bank's anti-fraud team is evaluating data they have available with the intent of setting fraud controls, it can be a challenging balance between inconveniencing "good" customers vs catching the bad guys. But, even more difficult, with a purely data-centric approach, it can be hard to weed out actual, active fraud attempts from just plain careless or stupid customers behaving in a way that looks like fraud. For this reason, being alerted of an actual fraud attempt can make a difference.

Further, bank anti-fraud teams are often networked well with other institutions, and with law enforcement. One data point may not seem like much, but when people working behind the scenes to stop fraud are able to add that data point to a larger picture, it can make an impact. Receiving relevant, fresh information on fraud attempts can certainly lead to authorities being able to prosecute criminals.

So - to make a long story short - it may be the case that a bank doesn't care about your craigslist add. For a given scam report, they may not care at all. But it may also be the case that a fraud report can make a big difference, and they will care very much. For me, personally, that chance is worth spending a few minutes of my time by collecting the data I have and reporting it to any financial institutions involved.

The best way to do that may vary by institution. Some banks will have a fraud reporting mechanism on their website. Others may not, and you can always call their customer service number. Using specific fraud reporting tools that the institution makes available is probably the best route, if they exist, because run-of-the-mill customer service reps are sometimes thrown off by things that occur very infrequently (like, how to handle someone reporting a fraud attempt).

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    In my experience, banks design elaborate automatic menu systems designed to prevent you from talking to a human: Either by solving easy problems automatically, or by deterring-via-annoyance anyone with a hard one. For instance, they auto-reject any non-customers by requiring you to authenticate with an account number and PIN; their concept is to funnel new customers through a sales channel. You have to go through arcane backflips to get the system to let you through anyway; pretending not to have a Touch Tone phone no longer works. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Sep 20 at 18:58
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So the answer here is "The financial institution cares, and the FBI cares." maybe some other Law Enforcement organizations too. The Financial institution cares because if you cash that check just as the scammer asked and the account owner complains, the bank is likely out of money due to refunding the stolen cash. YOU probably won't get in trouble as you're basically a money mule/innocent dupe. At worst what would happen is you'd get an official "letter of admonishment" explaining your part in the fraud. Then if you do something similar the government can lay the hammer down on you because you were already officially notified about the illegality of your action. The FBI cares because it's their job to stop this sort of thing. Elder abuse/fraud/scamming is actually something of a priority for them. (https://www.fbi.gov/audio-repository/ftw-podcast-elder-fraud-awareness-061419.mp3/view) That being said the fraud/loss amount in this instance is really low, and probably under their investigative threshold. (an FBI agent working your $1500/$4000 case puts as much time in as one doing a $50,000 case.) But it's still good to report because it'll go "in the system." If you and 50 other people report that the same address/person/phone number is trying to scam them all out of $1,500 that's suddenly a $75,000 investigation. As to knowing if anything comes of it, possible but unlikely. You lost no money, so obviously you can't get any restitution. But you might end up being interviewed, especially if your report pushes the crime over the line of investigatory interest. Even if you get interviewed though you'll almost certainly never know what comes of the case, unless you put up a Google Alert for the scammer's name and find a news article about it after they're convicted.

TLDR: Yes the government cares. Report it to the FBI. It might get prosecuted but you will almost certainly never find that out.

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I largely agree with the answer from Vicky. I share the sentiments expressed in that answer and from another commenter about actual prosecution or stopping a fraudulent account; it just seems unlikely for anyone to move and if they do you won't even get a thank you email.

I would suggest an additional place to report it - your elected officials.

Write to your elected officials and share that you're a regular person trying to just sell a car. In your case you are even helping an elder navigate modern selling and advertising listings. This should be an utterly boring everyday event. Instead, a simple and mundane task puts you and your 90-year old friend at risk of theft, scams, and fraud. You have to go to extra lengths to protect yourself and even when you do see something fishy, you don't have any good avenue to report it to an entity that can take action.

Your legislators are the people who ought to be able to consider your interests and actually act on changes that make fraud harder or to put people who can stop it on the hook. If they cannot readily change laws or budgets, they can certainly magnify your voice.

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    Fraud is already illegal. How will more legislation help? – Lawrence Sep 19 at 13:52
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    @Lawrence good question. The big thing I see is legislation to change police budgets and shift barriers to LEO agencies actually talking to each other. The local fuzz will absolutely go after someone passing bad checks in person, its clearly in their jurisdiction and relatively easy to ID a suspect. A scammer a few states away involves a few local, state, or even federal agencies. A $4000 crime at that level just isn't as big of a deal. Legislating for different enforcement priorities or budgeting for different resources can help. – Freiheit Sep 19 at 14:02
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    If you're of a more regulatory mindset - Laws that make the banks more liable for not responding to alerts about fraud could help. I cannot readily say what that might look like, but in OPs case surely reporting a fraudulent use of a check with account and routing numbers should get the banks attention. – Freiheit Sep 19 at 14:03
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    @Freiheit there are already regulations that require banks to report known fraud. Unfortunately, much goes unreported by consumers. I am at work right now, doing analytics on a case with about a thousand victims. less than 200 of them actually reported it. The bank found the other ~800. The losses were up to $1000. When those other 800 people were contacted, many of them said they were aware but didn't report it. This is typical consumer behavior. Banks want to stop fraud. It's in their best interest even if they're not financially liable. They just have to be told about it. – dwizum Sep 19 at 14:15
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    Fraudsters are often cuffed and stuffed. And in many versions of this scheme, the tow truck driver really does exist. If anything, propagating the idea that he doesn't exist plays into the fraudster's hands - because it may lead to people thinking that if a real person actually shows up, wearing a uniform - well they just have to be legitimate, right? – dwizum Sep 19 at 20:42

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