The check is in the mail

Check Fraud

Slowly but surely, Delores Reyes of Rose City has been trying to put her life and household back together after Hurricane Harvey rolled through last year and destroyed everything she spent 80-plus years amassing. But the fact that she has hit rough times hasn’t stopped criminals from targeting her as she begins to rebuild anew.

Among the things Reyes has been able to cobble together since the storm is a stove – although it’s electric, not the usual gas burner model she’s grown accustomed to cooking on over the last several decades.

“I can’t cook electric,” Reyes told The Examiner. “It was brand new but I can’t use that stove. I’m an old woman.”
Reyes said her niece suggested selling the appliance on and promoting it on Facebook.

“She did all that,” Reyes said.

Whatever the niece did to advertise the sale seemed to work like a charm. Within days, a man had contacted Reyes’ niece to say he wanted to purchase the $325 stove. The only catch was the buyer wanted to pay a lot more than the asking price.
At first, Reyes said, the prospective buyer haggled over the seller’s insistence that the appliance be purchased using either money order or cash – no checks. Eventually, the purchaser seemed to relent.

“He texted her, no name, but asked for my address to send the money,” Reyes said. With no real reason to suspect any foolishness afoot at that time, the niece complied with the request for an address to send payment in full.

“He said he was going to send a cargo truck to pick it up,” according to Reyes. “He said he wouldn’t come himself, but he’d send somebody.”
Sure enough, a few days later, a check – not the money order or cash expected – came in the mail. The next day, a visitor arrived presumably to collect the stove.

“I wasn’t home when he came,” Reyes said. Not that she’d have given anyone possession of the stove anyway. The check Reyes received was far in excess of the amount requested – $1,300 more than the asking price of the stove.

“I’m old,” Reyes reiterated, “but I’m not stupid.”

The $1,625 cashier’s check would have been a blessing to Reyes at a time of need, but knowing it was too good to be true, she inquired with her bank as to the check’s authenticity. Her hunch was confirmed; the check was a dud.

“He would have taken the stove and I would have been without any money,” Reyes said. “I couldn’t believe somebody would do that.”
After the first missed visit from the would-be buyer, Reyes said she never heard from the man again.

“Then,” she said, “the next week I got another check.”

Written for the same amount the check Reyes received the week prior, the second check was written on a separate banking account and sported a different return address than the first.

“I got one on a Thursday. Then I got the second one the next Thursday.”

Both checks and both pre-printed USPS tracking stickers attached to the mailings were marked with the same date.

One of the checks lists Nevada Title Company in Boulder City for a return address. Calls to the company, which does exist at the address indicated on the mailer, were forwarded to voice-mail and not returned as of press time.

The financial note inside Nevada correspondence indicates it was written through First Commerce Credit Union, out of Tallahassee, Florida. In addition to the discrepancy in the location of the banking institution compared to its origination address, there was also conflicting information noted on the cashier’s check as well.

Although “Pay exactly $1,650 (and no cents)” was noted on the face of the financial instrument, the corner of the same check denoted the amount of the check to be $1,625. First Commerce Credit Union was also contacted about the fake check sent to Reyes, but the only employee who could address the concern was not available according to a company representative.

The second check was written on a California-area Valley Oak Credit Union account. That financial institution was also unreceptive to questions about the fraudulent bank note, and bank representatives could not be reached for comment, as all attempts to reach staff were directed to voice-mails. The return address for that check was the Rockaway Brewing Company across the country in New York. Rockaway’s return address is incorrect, although the company does exist in a different locale.

Federal Trade Commission Consumer Education Specialist Lisa Lake reports that scammers know how to design phony checks to make them look legitimate. Even with looking out for the obvious, the checks sent to Reyes were nearly perfect. And, Lake warns of pitfalls like that utilized in the scam to deprive Reyes of her property, cashier’s checks like the ones sent to her as well as money can be counterfeited too.

“Fake checks drive many types of scams – like those involving phony prize wins, fake jobs, mystery shoppers, online classified ad sales, and others,” Lake warns.

Usually, unlike with Reyes, “in a fake check scam, someone asks you to deposit a check – sometimes for several thousand dollars – and, when the funds seem to be available, wire the money to a third party. The scammers always have a good story to explain the overpayment – they’re stuck out of the country, they need you to cover taxes or fees, you’ll need to buy supplies, or something else. But when the bank discovers you’ve deposited a bad check, the scammer already has the money, and you’re stuck paying the money back to the bank.”

For the con working against Reyes, the scammer never asked for the over-payment to be forwarded anywhere.

“He just wanted my stove,” Reyes said. “I guess when he came to my house and I wasn’t there, he just gave up. He hasn’t even texted to find out what happened.”

Reyes said she eventually sold her stove to a legitimate buyer out of Orange.

“I am just hoping he doesn’t do that to somebody else,” Reyes said of warning other potential victims to be on the lookout for “buyers” targeting Southeast Texas sellers. “I would hate to think of anybody else going through that, and believing him.”