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I'm going to do some possible contract work in my field and I've had an offer for some work I found through a reputable venue. However, that venue doesn't handle payments or anything like that. I seem to have negotiated some work, and the person agreed to it. Now, the job requires that I work with another person whom my possible customer is going to contract with. This other contractor will do some work on another aspect of the job.

Today, my 'customer' tells me they want me send me an amount 3x what I asked, in the form of a check. I am supposed to deposit it, deduct the amount I specified, and then send the remainder to the other contractor, who needs to complete their work before I can start mine. My customer says once I do this, the other contractor will send the customer what I need and they (the customer) will forward me the stuff so I can do my part of the job. Finally, the customer proceeded to ask me the name of my bank, but was careful to specify they did NOT want details of my bank. I'm thinking they wanted the name of the bank so if I were to deposit it, the customer could confirm through their own bank I had deposited it. But this payment arrangement seems strange.

Is this a scam? Thanks in advance for any help.

  • 71
    Yes, this is a scam. – ChrisInEdmonton Jun 3 at 13:41
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    Did they explain why they want to do it this way? – GS - Apologise to Monica Jun 3 at 13:55
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    First law of asking a question on money.SE: if you have to ask if it's a scam, it's a scam. – Ian Kemp Jun 4 at 11:49
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    Make sure you report this on whichever platform you found out about the job, if possible. – NotThatGuy Jun 4 at 11:55
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    Also, consider that if you're paying another contractor they are your subcontractor. You should be choosing your subcontractors, not the customer. – psaxton Jun 4 at 19:11
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100% scam. It's not your job to pay other contractors on behalf of the customer.

Ask yourself this: If the situation were reversed and the customer was saying he'd pay the other contractor, who would then be expected to pay you, would you take the job? I'm thinking probably not.

It isn't difficult or expensive for the customer to send two payments - one to you and one to the other guy. So why is he doing it this way? What can YOU do here that he couldn't do himself?

This is just a variation of the classic advance fee payment scam, modified for use on job hunting boards. The cheque that this "customer" sends you will ultimately be found fraudulent and get reversed by the bank, but not before you've sent off "payment" to the other contractor, who will no doubt have insisted on a non-reversible payment method like Western Union or something. So you'll be left out however much money you sent off and both of these guys will disappear.

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    Yeah I was thinking a lot of that but I didn’t know about the transferring a portion to something like Western Union. Not smart enough to figure these schemes out but I’m smart enough to ask people who know! Thank you. – user Jun 3 at 14:26
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    @user When someone makes a request of you that doesn't seem quite right, imagine yourself in the other guy's shoes and then try to figure out why he's asking you to do this thing. You'll probably quickly realize that there are many obvious and better options available that don't require your help at all, and that's how you know this request is a scam. Even if you can't figure out how he plans to scam you, you can at least be confident that you're better off not getting involved. – Steve-O Jun 3 at 17:35
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    @Steve-O : this is a great rule-of-thumb and is sadly not advertised enough. It's especially useful now in the ever-growing wake of "work from home" scams which promise an amazing salary of several times more than the market rate, for working from home just an hour or two per day, no experience required! The "work" will inevitably end up transferring money to "business associates" or "subcontractors". The first thing people should ask, is "if this was a legitimate company, they could just hire an on-site employee for a small fraction of the salary they promised me". – vsz Jun 5 at 6:01
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    @vsz: Another great rule of thumb is "Someone will send me money, and wants me to send some of it elsewhere" is nearly always either a scam or a money laundering scheme. This sort of indirect payment might have made sense a few centuries ago, but in the modern world, it's illogical and extremely unusual, and depending on the specifics, it may also be illegal. – Kevin Jun 5 at 21:06
  • The scam here is pretty obvious, but I'm left wondering if they are really stupid or is there something else I'm not seeing. If this is a job contract, then there is, well, a contract which includes details of both parties. If the client sends a bad check then not only have they commited fraud, they have also violated the contract - and all their details are visible. Unless they intend to go underground right after the deal, they'll be caught and sentenced almost immediately. – Vilx- Jun 6 at 9:58
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There is no reasonable scenario where a customer can write one check but not two.

Even if they were on their very last check, they are just a few days away from ordering more.

It may not be a scam had you picked the other contractor and paid them on the side. But, like in this case, when the customer dictates that you pay a third party AND they also designate the third party, it is nearly always a scam.

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  • I'm guessing you haven't dealt with a company that strongly restricts the number of available vendors, forcing you to pay third party vendors to procure things for you? I'm not saying I think that's what's happening here, I'm just saying that's a reasonable scenario – Joel Keene Jun 5 at 2:59
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    @JoelKeene actually, I have, which is what I describe in my last paragraph. The main difference is if I'm paying the third party vendor, then I get to pick them. – TTT Jun 5 at 5:59
  • I have, on multiple occasions, called a vendor and said, "hey, can you pay x company to delivery y part to me, and then invoice us for it", because x company is the only company that makes y part or whatever, thus, I'm not giving them any choice to pick the third party. Again, this is a somewhat contrived scenario, and deals with specific parts rather than services. But it's definitely happened – Joel Keene Jun 5 at 22:59
  • and again, in those cases we agreed on it and they invoiced us, we didn't just mail them a surprise check, so that's definitely fishy – Joel Keene Jun 5 at 23:02
  • I think the distinction here is that if the company has a contract with OP and also claims to separately have a contract with the third company which OP isn't a party to, there's no situation where they would pay their contract with the third company through the OP. – IllusiveBrian Jun 7 at 14:37
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The other answers already listed the basics of this scam. However, the scenario of a bounced cheque is one of the better ones: it means that you are scammed out of a particular sum and then hear nothing any more.

Far worse cases are those where the money goes through for good because

  1. you are likely to continue doing things this way and getting more comfortable with it.

  2. there is an actual source of the money, but it will not be what you think it is.

Basically, you are either laundering money stemming from criminal activity, or you are cashing in cheques on the accounts of unsuspecting victims that may or may not eventually notify the authorities.

In either case you are not only on line for repaying all of the money you received, but also are likely to get criminally prosecuted for money laundering, fraud and/or aiding and abetting crimes.

So it's not just a matter of you shouldering the expense if this does not work as announced to you. The consequences may end up a lot worse.

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    This is why, in all jurisdictions I've heard about, it's actually illegal for private persons to conduct "financial services" unless they have a proper authorization for it. So even in the (extremely unlikely case) it wasn't a scam, the OP would not be allowed by law to play the role of a financial institution (unless already being one, which seems not be the case). And let's not speak of the possible tax complications arising from it... – vsz Jun 5 at 6:07
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I have had such a scenario happen to me and not being a scam. It was a known customer so trust considerations may apply. The scenario was that the tender had been assigned to us because only one contractor could be assigned, even though the tenderer knew full well this was going to be a kind of consortium work. This is a circumvention of the rules but I think people in the above answers are only considering business in highly regular societies, or....they just do not conduct that much business. It is not an ideal way of conducting business and you may be opening yourself to liabilities, but to say it is a scam outright like the highest voted answer is of a certainty which i do not find reasonable for an experienced business person. That 2 payments is not an issue makes no sense. The accounting that matters, and registering 2 checks will not match with the letter of the tender.

Bureaucracy is sometimes inflexible and going and sometimes changing the bureaucracy is not feasible even for the customer. So my opinion is if you do not know these people personally and you see liability coming to you do not accept it. That is actually about it. Scamming is a different league and assumes malice, where at least in my society is not something common, but of course consideration of it is necessary.

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  • This makes sense in the context you describe. What was the relationship you had with the other vendor(s) you paid? Were you instructed to cut checks to vendor(s) that you did not know and communicate with, or did you work together with them on the project? – TTT Jun 4 at 14:54
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    Both. The one where we had to cut to a party we never worked with was distasteful and we kindly asked to not be involved in such a scheme again. I do not advise this, because while not a scam you enter a business relationship to accounting eyes that can have side effects. Case in point, the tax office asked us to retain our payment on their invoice to us because of their tax debt.In the situation where we knew the other vendor it was pretty straightforward as we had other parallel business dealings where we could legitimately put the money of the cut for actual provided services to us. Tricky. – Paulo Neves Jun 5 at 20:41
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    Yikes. Your single occurrence of this was enough to make me change the wording of my answer. ;) – TTT Jun 5 at 20:56
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    But in your case, was the amount being passed on less than the amount that you were receiving? The OP stated they were to pass on 2/3 of the amount, and in that case, I would think it would make more sense for them to get paid my the third party than the other way around. – Joe Jun 6 at 13:44

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