Overpayment Scam - Targeting Small Business
On July 16th, 2018, I was targeted for an overpayment scam through my business. The end result was good. I was not conned out of any money, and I got to waste the time of some con artists. It has been an interesting view into their world, and I am looking for your help to put them out of business.
The e-mail communications I had with "Cobalt Green" did not immediately seem out of place. If you think the name should have been a tip off, I was in the middle of preparing a wedding for the Kennedy-Johnson couple a the same time. Stranger things do happen.
What you will see in the e-mail string is not unusual when communicating with a couple as they plan their wedding. It is not unusual for couples to be sporadic in their communications or to pay the entire fee up front. Couples sometimes ask for services that are outside of the role of a wedding officiant. These actions always seem to be done with a mixture of the best intentions, lack of understanding of how to plan a wedding or are the result of wedding planning anxiety.
Given my past experience with couples, my communications with "Cobalt Green", did not seem out of the ordinary when spread over a four week period. The urgency to make the payment without a discussion about the ceremony or a signed contract became apparent as I read the e-mail string. Once I reviewed all of the correspondence together, I realized that the communications from "Cobalt" were not well-intentioned. Once it was apparent that he was a little too eager to make the payment, I became suspicious and did a Google search on the e-mail address. I found the same name and same e-mail address in a forum for event photographers discussing the topic of overpayment scams.
An overpayment scam used to be known widely for involving a Nigerian prince, but the focus has now shifted towards targeting small businesses and people who sell items online. What the con artist does is send you a check for more than the amount that has been discussed. When you deposit the fraudulent check, which will have an extended hold placed on it, they contact you and say that they sent you too much and you need to send some of the amount back to them via a wire transfer. Since no money went into your account (but you don't know that yet), you are actually paying them money.
Below, I have included the entire e-mail string, as well as the check that I was sent, the letter that came with the check, and the envelope. At the bottom of the page, you will find information on authorities you should contact if you are the target of a scam, even if it was one e-mail. My goal with this page is to create more awareness and to encourage people to report these actions to the proper authorities.
I hope this information is useful to you.
As I reviewed the e-mail string to prepare for the phone call, it became apparent that something was not right. It may seem that should have presented itself earlier, but these communications took place over the course of four weeks, and I have had people be odd without ill intent in the past, and turned out to be wonderful people once we performed their wedding ceremony.
I contacted my local FBI office and told them what was going on. They were interested and advised that I cease all communication with the con artists. There was just one last communication I had to send out....
I have to admit, that felt good. But not as good as when we received the check the following day...
Now, this is where things start to fall apart for the con artists. Why was the envelope sent from the American Society of Engineers? Why is the return address really Stonecrest Apartments?
For the check below, why is Peebles department store in Georgia paying for the wedding?
We took the check to our bank and they ran it through a program to determine if it was fraudulent. They had a good laugh about it and shared it with their co-workers.
And then, there was the letter that came with the check...
If you receive an e-mail for this scam, Report it to the FBI. This may sound like overkill, but even one e-mail trying to scam you is an internet crime. Let's send as much information as we can to the FBI so they can put the threads together and catch these people.
If you have received a check, contact the United States Secret Service. They are part of the Treasury Department and it is in their purview to investigate fraudulent checks.
If anything was mailed to you as part of a scam, contact the United States Postal Service and file a complaint.
If you do receive a check, ask your bank to confirm if it is fraudulent before you deposit it in your account.