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12.01.2006 General News

419 -- New & Improved


USA -- Naples fishing guide Rick Featherstone found it odd that prospective customers sent him a cashier's check in advance for $5,000 when they would have owed him only $3,000 for the four offshore fishing trips they booked.

But the reservation had come over the Internet, supposedly from Ireland, so he didn't have a phone number to hash out the difference.

Featherstone's wife, Liz, deposited the check to their account at Fifth Third Bank in Naples, and she said the teller advised her the money was available immediately.

They didn't suspect a scam.

The Featherstones' suspicions were aroused only when, the night before the first scheduled fishing trip on Jan. 7, he got an e-mail saying one member of the party was delayed in the African nation of Ghana. He was advised to wire her $3,000 immediately, so she wouldn't be late.

The bank was closed, but Liz Featherstone checked their account online and learned the $5,000 check never had been credited to their account. They were surprised because they never had been notified by the bank during the 15 days since the original deposit that the check was no good.

Had Featherstone not sniffed out the scam, he could have been bilked out of $3,000.

The Featherstones never had been notified the cashier's check was no good. A copy of the check faxed to The News-Press was stamped "Refer to Maker" and appears to have been rejected for payment on Dec. 28, five days after being deposited.

The official-looking check was drawn on Navy Federal Credit Union in Merrifield, Va.

Jama Dock, a spokeswoman for Fifth Third, said, "There are numerous cashier's check scams out there. Anyone at any bank would tell you we fight this all the time.

"The offer to pay someone with a check, and then asking them to send money back — that's the red flag."

Featherstone said he alerted other fishing guides to the ploy on an Internet forum in which he participates. Another forum participant then reported that the same scam was tried by the same person — ostensibly Jessica Woods of Dublin, Ireland — on a charter operator in California.

Malcolm Johnson, regional investigations manager for Fifth Third's bank protection unit, said the scam being foisted on Featherstone was "not so much a cashier's check fraud as a Nigerian Internet fraud.

"What we see a lot in the industry are advance-fee scams, where you have to pay money to get money. Sometimes we see it as someone selling a boat online."

A prospective buyer may claim to be from overseas and agree to a price, Johnson said. Then a check is sent out for more than the agreed amount. The buyer then will claim to have some obstacle to claiming the boat — possibly a customs problem — the fix for which is for the seller to return the amount paid in excess of the agreed-upon price.

The seller may be duped into writing a personal check for the excess amount, before discovering the original check is no good.

Johnson said a good Web site for learning about Internet scams is