24 November 2010

Internet Scams A Photographer's Story

It is a never-ending source of fascination to me the human drive to create. We humans have created some pretty awesome stuff in our brief history on this planet. What I find even more fascinating is that for every wonderful thing we have created there are those who can’t wait to find a way to use it for nefarious purposes. The Internet was created and Internet scams soon followed.

As an outdoor photographer living way outdoors in northwest Montana I am pretty dependent on the Internet to help me generate sales. The nearest town of any size is Kalispell and it’s seventy-five miles away. In winter it’s one hundred and seventy-five. The nearest city is Seattle and, well, that’s in another galaxy. Don’t feel sorry for me though. I’d eat squirrel stew if I had to in order to be able to live here.

Even though I quite literally live in the Kootenai National Forest I do have Internet service. Not only that this summer the electric co-op installed fiber optic cable (See: Fiber Optics-Rural Utilities). I’m still in disbelief.

About a month ago I was contacted, via e-mail, regarding the purchase of one of my fine art prints. There is just no way to market on the Internet without putting contact information out there for anyone to use. The e-mail said the person, a Mr. Taylor somewhere in Asia, was interested in purchasing my limited edition “Golden-eye On Walden Pond”. That particular image sells for $400.00. I replied saying payment could be made through Pay Pal. Taylor replied a cashier’s check would be sent and my address was required. I thought the whole thing seemed a little fishy but I decided to play along and provided a Post Office Box.

I didn’t hear anything more for a couple of weeks and had pretty much forgotten about it. Then I got an e-mail that said the check was in the mail. I thought “fine”. Then another week passed and I got a message saying the check would soon arrive but there had been a mistake. The check was being sent to me by an “associate” here in the states that had accidentally made the check out in the total amount of a debt, which was greater than the price of the print. No amount was given.

Now my eyebrows are making a very wide arch. But, I’ve done business in Asia and sometimes transactions are conducted in convoluted ways. Finally, the check arrives. It was all I could do not to laugh. Keep in mind I have a background in banking so I may have a little extra knowledge. Here is a copy of the actual check.

What was wrong with the check? Let me name the ways. First, the envelope in which the check arrived had no return address or postmark. Who in their right mind would send a cashier’s check without a return address? Next, the check was made out in the amount of $2,940. Keeping in mind the cost of the print was $400 plus shipping and handling this Taylor person wanted me to send him the print and $2,500! Next there was the check itself. The payee, that would be me, and the amount were handwritten. Cashier’s checks are always typed, unlike money orders. The check had no date. But best of all, the check had been placed inside a blank piece of paper upon which was the ink from the check itself! Talk about hot off the press!

It’s hard for me to believe that anyone would fall for this scam but I am certain people do or they wouldn’t be going on. Most everyone knows that you don’t ship or exchange goods before the check has cleared your bank so I don’t know how this was supposed to work. But, it never hurts to be reminded.

My story is pretty comical but I’m sure there are many that are not funny at all. So, the moral of this story be very careful when doing business on the Internet. It's a jungle out there. Most of us have a good sense of honesty and fair play. And, sadly, that’s exactly what these scamsters were banking on.


©Kinsey Barnard

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