July 30, 2005
As we learn that the
Internet has become the digital parallel of human
society, we have also found that, like a big city, there
are some really bad people and places that exist online.
As a business owner operating only online, I have to not
only surround myself with the software equivalent of an
electric fence, but have to find ways of "extending that
fence" around visitors to my sites.
Many the sites I operate,
provide free classifieds to regional business owners and
the general citizenry looking to sell the things they
would use print classifieds and advertising for. As
these sites become popular, many unscrupulous
individuals start preying on the good folks looking to
sell their boats, cars, services, etc. The
advertiser is lead down the path of the sale only to
find that the person making the offer is not from this
country and/or wants to send a check for more than the
amount asked. This is a typical overpayment scam.
According to FTC
officials, the scams work like this: Someone responds to
your posting or ad, and offers to use a cashier’s check,
personal check or corporate check to pay for the item
you’re selling. At the last minute, the so-called buyer
(or the buyer’s “agent”) comes up with a reason for
writing the check for more than the purchase price, and
asks you to wire back the difference after you deposit
the check. You deposit the check and wire the funds back
to the “buyers.” Later, the check bounces, leaving you
liable for the entire amount.
Here’s how to
avoid a check overpayment scam:
you’re dealing with. In any transaction,
independently confirm the buyer’s name, street
address, and telephone number.
a check for more than your selling price, no
matter how tempting. Ask the buyer to
write the check for the correct amount. If the
buyer refuses to send the correct amount,
return the check. Don’t send the merchandise.
alternative method of payment. As a
seller, you can suggest an escrow service or
online payment service. There may be a charge
for an escrow service. If the buyer insists on
using a particular escrow or online payment
service you’ve never heard of, check it out.
Visit its website, and read its terms of
customer service line. If there isn’t one or
if you call and can’t get answers about the
service’s reliability, don’t use the service.
To learn more about escrow services and online
payment systems, visit
If you accept
payment by check, ask for a check drawn on a
local bank, or a bank with a local branch.
That way, you can make a personal visit to
make sure the check is valid. If that’s not
possible, call the bank where it was purchased
and ask if the check is valid. Get the bank’s
phone number from directory assistance or an
Internet site that you know and trust, not
from the person who gave you the check.
If the buyer
insists that you wire back funds, end the
transaction immediately. Legitimate buyers
don’t pressure you to send money by Western
Union or a similar company. In addition, you
have little recourse if there’s a problem with
a wire transaction.
Resist any pressure to “act now.” If the
buyer’s offer is good now, it should be good
after the check clears the issuing bank.
any offer that asks you to pay for a prize or
a gift. If it’s free or a gift, you
shouldn’t have to pay for it. Free is free.
urge to enter foreign lotteries. Most
foreign lottery solicitations are phony.
What’s more, it’s illegal to play a foreign
lottery through the mail or the telephone.
But what about the
protection I talked about? One of the
things I had to do was ensure that most non-U.S.
parts of the world were blocked from posting or
responding to ads in my classifieds. One
great tool is a daily list of IP addresses by
country code. I found one site that
provides this list - you can access it
here. From this I was able to block many
areas in Africa, Europe, and Asia. Since
the classifieds I provide fall into a 200-300
mile radius, it did not affect my customers at
all. Anyone in the world can view the ads,
but not everyone can respond electronically.
Here is a list of
IP addresses that I have found to work to help
keep the offshore (non U.S.) bad-guys away. An IP address
currently contains a series of octets displayed
as xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx. If you see only one number,
it means that I blocked the entire range
beginning with that number. Those outlined in
yellow are primarily the Nigerian IP ranges.
You may only need to block all of 196.
ADDENDUM (24 October 2005) - Be careful
in the use of single digit IP Blocks:
While India uses a portion of the 202 and 58 in
the first position octet, so do some parts of
the United States.
The recommended solution is to expand your block
into 2 or three octet sets.
following website to check:
partial IP addresses will not be resolved and
may cause you to block those you want to see
Well, that is fine
to start, but there are some pretty bad folks
operating in the non-banned domains in the
North, Central, and South America. Depending on
your situation and server control, use the link
above or go to
www.completewhois.com to get more data.
You may also want
to consider alternate means to enable online
transactions to protect you as a buyer and a
seller. An escrow service may offer the
protection you need from disagreements on
receipt of product or services,
misunderstandings, and all sorts of other issues
that come up in the online marketplace.
Essentially, you are hiring a licensed and
bonded 3rd party to hold the funds until all
parties are satisfied with the transaction, at
which point the buyer can order the release of
his money to the seller. It provides protection
for both Buyer and Seller.
There are number of online Escrow services
available, however, fake Escrow service providers are
on the rise. Check for
"Fake Escrow sites" on Google.com to find
list of fake Escrow services. Once again, try to stay away
from escrow sites especially ones that a seller
Escrow.com is known to be a genuine escrow site
since other reputed sites like eBay uses its
service. PayPal also seems to be very well
suited for this as well. I do not endorse
one over the other, I just think that they are
good ideas to explore.
If you have been victim of such scams, visit
to file an official complaint.
I have touched on
one of the big money scam problems on the
Internet, however many of us have also found out
that we can help deposed African monarchs get
their money into our bank accounts and that we can
win lotteries we never entered...via mysterious
email! I guess I entered when I forwarded
all those chain emails going around saying bill
Gates would pay me half his fortune if I sent
the message to people who now don't like me (or
block my email). But I am being facetious.
These fall under
the heading of "4-1-9" Fraud after the section
of the Nigerian penal code which addresses fraud
schemes. You can get more information
regarding the details of this type of fraud at
Secret Service's 919 website.
With all this to digest, don't get heartburn -
just be a bit more wary.