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I am afraid my brother-in-law is getting scammed again but cannot find any info on this present one. Apparently someone sends him checks that he is to destroy. Apparently this bunch amounts to about 40k. In theory he is suppose to get paid to do this. I cannot find any information to show him he has once again fallen for some sort of scam. Anyone know of this one? What the deal is?

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This is likely a setup for some standard type of fraud. For example, Advance Fee: "you'll need to pay us to cover the cost of a background check on you" or overpayment scam. Or they want bank details and addresses for identity fraud.

Possibly, they may later tell him he has been doing something illegal, and threaten to call the police on him if he says anything. The employment part is likely just a cover to make him slightly less suspicious about a stranger sending money out of the blue.

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My guess is that they will say "Oh no, you destroyed the check for $1000 that was in there that wasn't meant to be destroyed, now you have to pay us back that $1000".

However, honestly, it doesn't matter how it works. It's clear it is a scam - this is not a normal thing that people do as their job. He should walk away and cut off all contact, ignoring any threats of legal action etc.

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    Actually, there's an entire industry built around this sort of thing -- but that's just more evidence that it's some sort of scam. If you've got a pile of checks that need to be destroyed, you don't send them to a random stranger, you employ the services of a secure-destruction company. – Mark Apr 30 at 21:40
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    I agree with Mark. If I send a random stranger a bunch of stuff to destroy, why would I trust him not to just stick them in a recycling bin? – Brian May 1 at 13:57
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This is typical. Straight scams are obvious. So scammers have you do things at first which are routine, innocuous or silly, do no harm, and are no risk.

The purpose of this is to build up your confidence.

This is why they call it a "confidence game" aka "con game".

Once confidence has set in, then the scammers will start asking things which you would outright reject if they had asked at the start. Now that confidence has been achieved, the requests seem not so unreasonable.

At the end of the day, keeping your BiL out of such predicaments is not your job. If your BiL chooses to have more confidence in scammers than you, then there may be a lesson to be learned. There's a point where your advice is not wanted, and pushing no the point only polarizes them. In that case, best to back off and let them pay the tuition!

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    Pretty innovative, it gets the mark comfortable with the idea of checks from the scammer. – trognanders May 1 at 5:38
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    Sometimes a good approach may be not to tell someone something is a scam, but try to get them to ask themselves what should be simple questions, such as "Can I think of plausible reasons why an honest person want to pay me money to do X rather than doing it themselves?" For most honest jobs, it should be easy to think of honest reasons. For many scams, however, there wouldn't be any plausible honest reason. – supercat May 1 at 17:45
  • @supercat: I think that should be an answer, in fact it should be the answer to a lot of “is this a scam”-type questions. – jmoreno May 3 at 12:53
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Yet another possible angle is that the scammer might accuse your brother-in-law of fraudulently cashing one of the checks that didn't have a recipient specified.

The scammer wouldn't even need to know if your brother-in-law's actually guilty of doing so; they could just argue that they detected one of the checks that he was supposed to destroy getting cashed, claiming that he's obviously the the one responsible for it. Then:

  • If he actually did try cashing one of the checks, the guilt and fear of prosecution might leave him especially motivated to pay back the stolen money (which, I'd guess, would probably get reversed later anyway, as in typical scams), plus perhaps a punitive fee.

  • Even if he's innocent, they might still scare him into believing that that evidence makes him look guilty enough for a court to convict him, then convince him to pay some sort of settlement fee to make the problem go away.

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  • Tangentially, anyone know the name of the principle that suggests minimizing unnecessary powers to avoid exposure to false accusations of misusing those powers? For example, many folks don't like knowing someone else's passwords because, if those passwords are later lost or the account otherwise compromised, they might be accused of being the leak. (I ask because it seems relevant here -- the brother-in-law seems to be exposing himself to the opportunity to engage in fraud with these checks, which is a dangerous thing to be exposed to even when completely honest.) – Nat May 3 at 10:38
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    "Principal of least privilege" perhaps? – WW. May 3 at 11:51
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Another thought - if these cheques/checks are real and authentic, there's some risk that some of them are stolen.

Being in possession of, or doing anything with stolen checks could be a crime in your/his location. And consider that the scammers will have his home address because they posted the cheques to him for destruction.

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An approach to consider when trying to dissuade someone from getting caught by a scam is to ask questions which should have easy answers if they were dealing with honest people, but which for most scams wouldn't have any apparent answer. The most fundamental is probably "Why would your prospective employer rather pay you to do something than either do it himself or go through an established company or hiring service"?

If the mark gets defensive about such questions, one might suggest that the mark ask the "prospective employer" for assistance. Most likely the prospective employer would simply vanish if they thought someone might be on to them, but if so mission accomplished, mostly.

It's possible, however, that the mark as a psychological condition which would prevent them from seeing as a friend anyone who acts nice to them and avoids making them uncomfortable, and would resent anyone who caused them to lose their "friends". About the only thing I could recommend would be that one help the mark find more real friends, but that may be difficult for a variety of reasons, and I really wouldn't have much advice to offer as to how one should accomplish it.

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