Phony online escrow sites snare victims
An escrow fraud victim may be sending their
money or their merchandise to another American who honestly believes
they're working for a company based in Europe.
Scammers recruit these unsuspecting accomplices
through online employments sites such as Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com.
The consumers believe that they're working as correspondence managers
or finance managers for companies based in Eastern Europe.
"The suspects are having no problem posting
these jobs and recruiting hundreds of consumers all over the country,"
says Barry Mew, a spokesman for the Postal Inspection Service.
Some scammers go to great lengths to make these
phony jobs seem very professional and on the up and up.
Red flags waving everywhere
"Some scams with unsuspecting middlemen are very elaborate,"
says Steve V., a former victim of escrow fraud who runs EscrowFraud.com.
"One company put people through a six-month training program."
No matter how professional a company seems,
no legitimate overseas company needs you to collect and re-ship
"There's no legitimate job receiving and
forwarding packages. If that's the job, run as fast as you can,"
And no legitimate company needs you to receive
money in your PayPal account or bank account and then wire the money
What should you do if you've been duped by a
phony employment ad? Contact the police and the FBI. And because
the scammers have your personal financial information, you'll want
to protect yourself against identity theft. An identity
theft checklist from Bankrate.com will walk you through the
What to do if you're a victim
If you think you've fallen for an escrow scam, contact
your bank immediately and try to stop the payment. If you wired
your payment, you may able to stop the transfer if you contact your
bank within 48 hours.
If you've sent merchandise to a scammer, contact
the shipping company and halt the shipment. If you move quickly
enough, you may be able to get your item back.
Steve V. was able to retrieve his $1,200 laptop
before it reached a scammer in London.
At the buyer's recommendation, Steve had agreed
to use an escrow service known as TripleGuardian.
Once he received an e-mail from TripleGuardian
saying the buyer's funds had arrived, Steve shipped his laptop to
the buyer's London address.
When TripleGuardian sent him an e-mail saying
they were having trouble with their Web site a couple of days later,
Steve started to worry.
"It made me really nervous. I called UPS
-- the shipper," Steve says.
One story's happy ending
His laptop hadn't left the country yet. He paid UPS $100 to get
his laptop returned to him. He started EscrowFraud.com to warn others
about escrow fraud.
"I'd say 90 percent of victims find out
too late," Steve says.
But even if you can't get your money or merchandise
back, you can take steps to protect yourself from identity theft.
If a scammer swiped any of your personal financial information in
the scam, you're bound to be a victim.
If you gave a phony escrow site a password that
you use on any other account, you'll want to change that password
If you provided financial account information
to a fake escrow site, be sure to alert your financial institution
about the fraud. It's important that you safeguard your account
Be sure to report an escrow scam to the authorities.
Reporting an escrow scam may help investigators crack international
Agencies to contact:
File a report with the Internet
Crime Complaint Center, the
Federal Trade Commission, and the local office of the Secret
You also may want to file a report with your
local police and your state's
If the phony escrow site uses the United States
Postal Service to deliver money or merchandise, file a mail
If a fake escrow site uses Western Union to
transfer money, report the fraud to Western
Union. If you are a Yahoo! auction customer report the fraud
If you got scammed while buying or selling an
item on eBay, report the fraud to eBay.
You may also want to post your story on eBay's
Escrow Discussion Board. This is a great way to warn other consumers
about the scam. Reporting the company to the Better Business Bureau
is a good idea as well.
And if the fake escrow site has copied content
from Escrow.com, report the fraud to Escrow.com.