Archive for the ‘Trends’ Category

Fake Money Orders
So many scams, so little thought.

Within the past five years counterfeit check schemes have exploded across the Internet as scam artists have shifted from fake mail lotteries to online fraud. In the past year alone, the United States Postal Inspection Service seized over 600,000 fake checks worth more than a fake $2.5 billion combined. Yet, according to USPIS estimates, the overall number of counterfeit checks sent to potential victims in 2008 is likely four or five times that.

In late December I placed an ad on craigslist to sell a piece of audio equipment. I posted the ad from Queens with a selling price of $600 and a clear message at the bottom that I would not ship and that the buyer must come to pick up the device in person.

Within two days I received five responses from potential “buyers” offering to send me money orders in exchange for the device. I knew they were all scams involving counterfeit checks (likely from Nigeria, the world capital of fake check schemes.) But I wanted to see for myself how these scams were supposed to play out. So I decided to pursue one.

The most detailed response to my ad came from divinestoress45@yahoo.com. So that was my bait. Wait, I mean catch… I was the bait.

The responder, who went by Michael Sean, told me he was out of the country on business, but that he would send me a money order through express mail and have his assistant pick up the device after I securely deposited the cash.

Ok, I thought, let’s see what comes of the bullshit. I had already sold the device.

Soon after I agreed to take my ad off craigslist and hold the item for him, I received another email explaining that his assistant had mistakenly mailed payment for more than the requested $600. Michael courteously apologized for the inconvenience and asked if I would be so kind as to wire the difference to his father, Gabriel Sean, in London through Western Union. In exchange for my troubles, I could take an extra $40.

I replied with a few unassuming questions:

How much more had his assistant sent and how much would he be expecting me to wire back?

Could I just give the remainder to his assistant when he or she came to pick up the device?

How could I get in touch with his assistant to arrange a pickup time?

No response.

Two days later I received another email from Michael letting me know the money order was safely on its way and would arrive the following week. “Sorry again for the inconvenience,” he wrote, “I appreciate that I can trust you with my request.” Screw this, I thought, it’s more work than it’s worth. I replied by telling Michael I was well aware he was trying to scam me and that I was completely unimpressed with his lack of consistency.

No response.

Then about three weeks later, on February 3rd, I received a brown wax-paper envelope heavily postmarked from the Republic of Benin in West Africa, right next to Nigeria.

Inside were four international money orders, each for $950. The money orders were dated January 13th — more than a week after I had sent my last email — and carried the remitter name Jerry D. Holbrook, the Chief Financial Officer of Fox Chase Bancorp in Hatboro, PA. That wasn’t hard to find on Google. Nor was the fact that Mr. Holbrook’s name has been used several times in previous fake check scams.

Nonetheless, my “buyer” still thought he could pull one over on me. I suddenly became agitated. After I had blatantly told him I was privy to his scam, he expected me to go out and cash the money orders, wire more than $3,000 to an unknown party, and owe my bank the full amount after the checks bounced!

Was he dumb? Or did he think I was dumb?

I had to take it just a little further at this point. I emailed Michael to let him know I had received his payment and that I was heading over to my bank. A few hours later he replied:

“I am happy you have gotten payment. Like I said in my previous email, go ahead and get them cashed at your bank, deduct your payment and send the balance via Western Union to my dad on the following details:

NAME OF RECEIVER: GABRIEL SEAN

CITY: LONDON

COUNTRY: UNITED KINGDOM

THE REMMITER NAME IS JERRY HOLBROOK

Send me the transfer details after doing that. i.e. MTCN (Money Transfer Control Number). Western Union will give you that after doing the transfer, and the total amount sent after deducting the charges. I need to send it to my assistant to take care of some pressing bills and to help me arrange for a pick-up by FedEx.

I will wait to hear from you as soon as possible. I AM SORRY FOR THE DELAY. YOU CAN TAKE $50 FOR THE STRESS YOU WILL GO THROUGH.

Thanks,

Michael”

Over the next week I called the USPIS.

“The most prevalent scams have always been fake foreign lotteries,” said Allan Weissmann, a U.S. Postal Inspector. “What they’ve started doing in the past few years is adding a fake check or money order to the scheme as an extra twist, which has lead to all kinds of money order scams over the Internet.“

That begs the question, how many of these scam artists are actually artists? The Internet allows for plenty of fraud, but it also allows for plenty of carelessness. Online scams are about as abundant as online pornography and myspace music pages, and often just as sloppily produced.

“What throws unsuspecting people off is that by law their banks have to make the money available within a few days,” said Mr. Weissmann. “But that doesn’t mean the check has cleared.”

Obviously, I never cashed the bogus money orders, but that didn’t stop Michael Sean from sending me more emails to see when I would wire his payment back.

Jerk.

—Damian Ghigliotty

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As George Orwell put it, “It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs – and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.”

If these words mean anything to consumers and investors around the world, it’s to those anxiously waiting for the bottom:

The bottom of stock markets, the bottom of housing and credit markets, the bottom of ambiguous recessions muddled by GDP reports.

Perhaps Orwell would top even Warren Buffet as an oracle.

In a recent Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, Buffet assured investors that now is the occasion to buy American stocks. Not a bad idea, considering the Dow was at a low of 8,578 the day before his piece ran. But that suggestion looks less promising than it did two weeks ago as stock markets continue to tumble. Today, the Dow closed at 8,176.

Buffet, himself, has lost $9.6 billion in equity this year, according to a recent story in The Wall Street Journal.

He did write in his call to investors, however, “Let me be clear on one point: I can’t predict the short-term movements of the stock market. I haven’t the faintest idea as to whether stocks will be higher or lower a month — or a year — from now.”

The CEO of Berkshire Hathaway can certainly afford the gamble, despite his loss. For the rest of us, there are plenty of opportunities on the horizon to buy cheap and lend at high risk with a chance of reward, plenty of opportunities for new home seekers to go bargain hunting, and plenty of opportunities for graduates to find jobs once companies start to hire again. But not until the economy — at least ours — truly bottoms out.

It’s a matter of physics. You can’t pick something up when it’s still in the process of falling. Sure, you can try and catch it mid-fall, but that might just hurt your hands.

In the meantime, enjoy the little perks: overheated rent prices are beginning to cool down; Barack Obama stands a better chance in lieu of McCain’s displays of financial ineptitude; there are more free ATMs available for WaMu customers (maybe even ATM fees will start to decline as a result); and everyday goods and services, with a few exceptions, are getting cheaper – just wait for gas.

Some of those perks might not help lift the economy, but se la vi, the economy’s going to the dogs anyway…

—Damian Ghigliotty

You Limy Bastards

Posted: April 27, 2007 in Brooklyn, Business, Culture, Food, Trends

bodega.jpg

By Michael Hicks aka Mad Mike Mean Face

What goes perfect with a Corona? Yes, you little booze dumpster, you guessed it: a slice of lime. Getting a lime in the city is no problem, but the variety of prices can be daunting. Take your standard bodega where a lime can cost anywhere from 25 to 50 cents. Some have deals such as four for a dollar or buy four and the fifth one is free. The super markets sell limes for 33 cents apiece, which is generally a standard price in most produce departments.

The trendy organic stores like Dean & Deluca, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have a few different kinds of lime for the real connoisseur. You haven’t lived until you’ve tasted the citrus delicacy of a rumored $3.00 Dean & Deluca lime. These limes must be kept in a small temperature controlled oasis as not to spoil the moment that that $3.00 slice of lime hits your $1.50 beer. One example of variety is the Persian lime, which is commonly called the bear lime. The Persian lime is cultivated in the good old US of A, so those people bitching about the movie 300 should shut the fuck up cause we got yo limes bitches. The American manufactured limes are most likely harvested by immigrant workers earning around 33 cents an hour, which gives them plenty of money to buy limes from their local food stores. There’s also the infamous Key lime often called the West Indian or Mexican lime. Key lime pie is gross.

Down in Chinatown you can usually find a vendor selling four limes for a dollar next to a sewer drain. These limes tend to have a more flavorful taste but usually need a day or two to ripen. This is okay, unless you’re a raging drunk in need of a beer that requires a lime at that exact moment. Then again most raging alcoholics don’t drink beer that requires lime. Real drunks will drink anything, or in the case of the closet alcoholic soccer mom, wine is usually the weapon of choice. MADD would be so disappointed.

I walked past a hipster haven food market in Midtown where the name of the store was written in graffiti font. I guarantee those limes are at an above average price, say maybe in the 55 to 72 cent range. I don’t know about you, but I really could give a shit less if my limes go all city. I want my limes cheap and accessible. I bet those hipsters keep their limes right next to the fat cap carrots and the style wars broccoli.

The Korean grocer on my block sells limes for 29 cents each, but forget about organic that’s another tax bracket all together. So go ahead everyone, waste your hard earned money on limes, I’m drinking whiskey. Ice costs nothing in the winter and in the summer there’s always shots.