Doodles in the margin from an artist living and working in the Scottish Borders.

Sunday, 7 August 2011


Some time ago I wrote a blog post battering the last shreds of any humour out of a scam email purporting to be from the FBI. Well, the scam dog came prowling up to the porch again and this time I got close enough to smell the Jumbone on its cyberbreath.

I'd like to say I was on to it from the first sniff of the email, but while that's not as true as I would probably wish it was, there were a number of things that I was uneasy about.

On Saturday I got an email which read:


My name is Luma Azar, i will like to order for some piece of your artworks as gift for my parents who are celebrating their wedding anniversary, so i will be glad to read back from you  as soon as possible, also i need your website address to choose from you available artworks or send me list of your available  artworks for me to choose.
Waiting to read from you that we can make some progress.
Luma Azar.

I do have a habit of looking gift horses in the mouth, especially when they come by the internet ("the internet is full of cobblers" - Ramesh Majhu) so I did what anyone would do, a Google search. Luma Azar is apparently a Jordanian children's author. Here she is doing good with children and books. That seems pretty genuine. She also appears on the website, here. That also has the email address from which the above email came. It's a hotmail address, which (as well as the lapses in English) made me doubtful.

Still, there wasn't enough there to make me set off the Baboonery Scam Klaxon we keep up in the turret, so I sent my web site address - while wondering how you could get my email, know I did art but not know what my website was - and said I'd be happy to deal with any questions etc. No point being excessively rude just yet to someone who could turn out to be a genuine buyer.

A reply came:

Hello Richard,
Thanks for your reply concerning my order, I  am ok with the once below, i want you to get back to me with the  total price of the once below. And i am sure that my parent will love your great works.

Cromer Pier Winter

Scott's View

Still Life With Figs

Meanwhile, I don't want you to bother your self concerning the shipment i have a shipping company that will come for the pickup inyour gallery also they will be the one to make the packing, just get  back to me with the price of the art work so that we can make some progress.



I see.

Then, after agreeing to the price, they got down to the meat of the matter:

The reason I am sending you this email is to make final reconfirmation of the and also to let you know that payment will be by Cheque. In view of this I need you to email me any information that may be required to send the Cheque , as I do not want to send the Cheque to a wrong location least they gets into the wrong hands. Regarding the shipping, I have a company that takes care of the pick up of my consignments for me and ship to my destination , you do not worry about shipping, the company will send down a representative to arrange the sales documentation and the pick up from your gallery form onward transfer to my destination,

Fair enough. Then followed instructions:

I also want to alert you on the fact that you will be receiving an overdraft Cheque which will cover the money for the pickup. (pickup and shipping to the final destination) as well as the money to be paid to the company that will take care of the pick up and the documentation with you. So please, as soon as you receive the Cheque, go and cash them immediately,deduct the cost of your item and send the balance to the Head Office of the company that handles the shipment via the nearest Western Union agent in your area. Deduct the Western Union charges from the balance and send the remaining to the shipping company. 

Got that? They send me a cheque. I take the cheque to the Western Union. I receive my money, I pass on an extra amount to the shipping company. 

It seems fine because all they want is my name and address, and confirmation that I'm selling to them. I'm not being asked for my bank details. What kind of muppet do you take me for? That all sounds fine to me. After all, they're even giving me a cheque with my name on it. The money goes to me.

Right. Another internet search at this point is in order. If you cut and paste "I also want to alert you on the fact that you will be receiving an overdraft Cheque which will cover the money for the pickup" into Google you'll get page after page after page of results, all quoting that same line. (Here's everything I got, word for word just with different names.)  It's a scam. A big fat 'un. 

It's important that the money goes into your account first. Not only does this make it seem legitimate - they're giving you money - but it has to be done in order for the scam to work. All the money from the cheque goes into your account. Then you move an amount on to the 'dealer' or 'shipping agent.' This third party gets paid with real money - yours. The cheque eventually bounces or is declared worthless and the money will be retrieved from you by the bank. You're responsible for it. Because the money you paid in from the buyer never existed in the first place, you're out of pocket. 

You know, I could have fallen for this. I'd like to write one of those "and then I wrote and told them I'd been kidnapped by Marxist guerillas and they were my only contact with the outside world" blogposts and demonstrate my superior internet savvy. But I could have got really excited that I'd apparently sold some stuff, and sent my details. 

But I didn't, and I'm pretty pleased with that, and that I was curmudgeonly and suspicious enough to look into it. Thanks also to Laura who ran it past her bullshit detectors.

But bearing in mind that initial searches showed up an apparently real person with the same email address, the advice is to be suspicious of:

  • free email addresses
  • bad English
  • ANY FORM OF OVERPAYMENT scheme, third parties, shipping companies, dealers, etc.

In the end I replied: 

 "I also want to alert you on the fact that you will be receiving an overdraft Cheque which will cover the money for the pickup."
I think in view of the number of times this phrase appears in a Google search for internet scams, we have no further business to do.
R Johnson

What I really wanted to say - and now take the opportunity to do so - was this:

Sweary artwork courtesy of the splendid Warwick Johnson Cadwell.

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