Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Carmel on the Case: Nigerian Counterfeit Check Scam
Tonight - a consumer alert on a slick rip off that is costing victims millions of dollars. It's called the Nigerian counterfeit check scam. And Investigative Reporter Carmel Cafiero is "On The Case."
(WSVN) -- The City of Lagos has been described as the New York of Nigeria.
It's also believed to be the birthplace of multiple scams with victims throughout the world.
The latest targets people who are selling merchandise on the internet.
Here's how it works. The con men pretend to be buyers. They send cashiers checks for "more" than the purchase price with some story about why they need the seller to wire the extra cash to a third person. Problem is that third person is really the con man and the checks are counterfeit.
That's exactly what happened to Dave Levin who was selling his 1985 Lincoln Town Car.
He says a buyer from out of the country wanted to purchase the car and have it shipped.
The buyer sent him a cashiers check for $3,800.00 "more" than the purchase price.
Dave says, "He says what he wants me to do is send the balance of the money to the guy in England who's the shipper."
He did and got burned when the cashiers check later bounced.
He's still trying to sell the car.
And is now in the hole for $3,800.00 dollars.
Dave says, "I figure if the bank can't check it out - how can I?"
Eastern Financial InvestigatorShireen Milaji says, "We do not place it on hold as we would a normal personal check. Unfortunately the scammers know this."
Shireen Milaji is a fraud investigator for Eastern Financial.
She explains the counterfeits are so good - tellers often don't spot the fakes.
And while the cash may go into the victims' account - it doesn't stay there once the check is discovered to be fraudulent.
"We have to reverse it on the customer's account or the person has to pay back the bank whatever money they've taken."
"These are all victims?"
At the Miami office of the Secret Service - Assistant Special Agent in Charge , John Large, says ten to twenty complaints come in every week.
"The vast majority, what you're looking at right here has emigrated from Nigeria via Fed Ex or Via Gel packages."
There's maybe four million in worthless counterfeit checks here.
And the bad guys behind them may never get caught.
John says, "In many instances the trail runs cold when it leads to a foreign country."
Karyn Solocheck says, "This entire thing has bankrupted us..."
Karyn Solocheck had never heard of the scam until she and her husband were arrested when they tired to cash a counterfeit check sent from Nigeria.
Karyn says, "They have taken everything we've worked so hard for and that mattered to us is gone, everything."
Jeffrey Solochek went to jail because he had been out on bond on an unrelated drug charge.
Both say they were only trying to sell computers and headsets on the internet.
Public DefenderMelisa Manganelli says, "He appears to be a victim and now he's sitting in jail charged with grand theft."
Manganelli has convinced the Broward State Attorney's Office that the couple could be victims - not criminals.
Assistant State AttorneySharonda Johnson says, "We're investigating if the defendants are involved in a counterfeit check cashing scam out of Nigeria."
Judge John Murphy agreed to allow Jeffrey Solocheck to bond out of jail.
And that means this holiday he may be back home with his family.
Meanwhile - for internet entrepreneurs - it's - "sellers" beware.
If you have a story for Carmel, give her a ring at 305-627-CLUE or 954-921-CLUE.
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