Tuesday, May 11, 2010

eBay scam: pay back money to a chinese bank account.

I recently sold some PS3 Games on eBay. One of them went to a guy who had a new account and zero feedback, call him "The Buyer". He says he's a Chinese student and wants to use bank deposit because he doesn't have paypal. No problem there, so I give him my bank account details.

The next day I get this message:

My god, this is so bad, I paid a error amount of money to you, just I wantto pay the money (776AUD) to my chinese seller,but i paid all money to your Bank account,i have tried to cancel the payment,but i cannot,after you got the money,you have to return my other money,i think the transfer fee is 20-30AUD,u have to return my excess money 710AUD (776-30-36),i hope you are sincere seller,this is my bank details

Bank transfer
Bank name:bank of china NanYang branch Henan province
Address:No.129.QIYI road. NanYang Henan china
Account Name: Wang Ting
Account number:636666020028246
i am very worried now,waiting for your letter!- saft1

Call me a cynic, but I smelled a rat straight away. You probably don't have to be a genius to tell, but it would not surprise me if a lot of people fell for this kind of scam. On the face of it, it really does seem innocent enough, most of my friends asked me if I was sure it wasn't just an honest mistake. I checked with the bank and the money had definitely cleared, so you really would not be personally out of pocket if you followed through with the suggested transaction.. However I've had some training in the arts of deception, in the form of illusion and magic and it still surprises me a little when I come across a situation when the skills transfer to the real world. There is actually a lot in common between con artists and magicians, they both fool people and often using very similar methods, it's mainly their motive that differentiates them. One of the main things you learn is that you can never be "too clever to be fooled". The best you can hope to do is reserve judgement, if you think something is afoot, even if you don't know what the scam is. The more you practice, the better your bullshit detector gets, but no nobody's BS detector is perfect. That's why scammers very often try to create a sense of urgency, like you might miss an important opportunity, this is designed to reduce the amount of time you think you have to come to a decision, it creates stress, which increases the chances of making a mistake, which should be obvious. I believe absolutely anyone can be fooled, even very clever people can be fooled if you design a clever enough scam. Fortunately, most scammers are not clever, their victims tend to be the less critical and weary amongst us. But never let that lull you into a false sense of security, somewhere out there, there very well could be a tailor made scam with your name on it.

Anyway, continuing with the story. The first detail that struck me as suspicious was that The Buyer had his last name listed as Singh, which is a very common Indian name, but he says he is Chinese. I thought about it but I couldn't quite work out what was going on. At first I thought it was money laundering. I didn't really want to keep the dirty money, but I didn't just want to hand it back either, if they are a crook, I don't want to be a witting or unwitting accomplice. So I sat on it for a day to see what would happen. I was a little scared, what if I was withholding money from gangster thugs? They had my real name, what if they came to visit looking for their money? I got another email from The Buyer playing the guilt card, telling me how honest I am and how he doesn't have a lot of money and really needs it back, that he knows I would do the right thing. Well he had the last part right, that's for sure.

I spoke to my bank, the first guy I spoke to said it sounded like a "phishing" scam (which it is not), I think they guy was just waiting for the opportunity to say "oh that sounds like a phishing scam".. The next person suggested it was money laundering, which is what I first thought and sounds more plausible, but something still didn't add up! The Buyer was willing to lose $66 in this transaction, that's nearly 10%, that's a lot to lose for a very small amount laundered..

I even called the police but they really weren't interested in talking unless I was reporting a crime. So I asked: "Well isn't money laundering a crime?" The officer I was speaking to replies: "Uh, I don't know." I kid you not.

I finally called the number in the details of The Seller, pretty sure I knew what was going to happen and confirmed the details belonged to someone who hadn't been on eBay for 3 years. So it was fraudulent information, that didn't ease my conscience much; I thought it was still possible the scammer was in Australia and they'd still be after their money. At this stage, The Buyer had emailed me a couple of times asking for his money back. I had to fight the urge to reply that I was onto his scam, because I still didn't quite get what the scam was.

But after a while a few pieces fell together and it clicked: The money in my account didn't belong to The Buyer in the first place! It belonged to someone else who had also been scammed. The Buyer gave my account details to someone else who was also being scammed! Of course it seems obvious now, but it would rely on people not catching on before they "give the money back" thinking they were either doing the right thing, or they had no other choice. I told more then a few people the details, including friends, my bank and the police and no one clicked as to what was happening, everyone assumed as I did that it was some strange money laundering scheme, or scheme to get money out of Australia into China. Maybe drug money or stolen money or something. Well the money was stolen, but not how we first thought.

This kept me up at night wondering for about 3 nights, until I finally had the epiphany! It wasn't The Buyer's money to begin with! One thing that didn't fit was the money came from an Australian bank. When I checked my statement, the message beside the deposit was the word "iPhone" preceded by a strange word.. Until then it hadn't clicked, I thought it must have been something The Buyer had put there, but I did a user search on eBay and sure enough, the strange word was an eBay ID! I sent the user a message just asking if they had recently bought an iPhone and sure enough, they had. They said yeah, it's not a scam is it? I really hope not.. I replied yeah it's a scam, but it's your lucky day, because your money is in my account! So, needless to say, they were very happy to get their money back. And my conscience received a well deserved reprieve! I'll sleep like a baby tonight. :)

I couldn't help myself but reply to The Buyer that I was onto him from the start and he's stupid and any money he gets from cheating people will poison his life… You know, the usual.. Now I've got a negative feedback from him, since the account hasn't been banned yet, which is a little slack on eBay's part since I reported the user ID on Friday. Hopefully it gets done soon and the feedback gets removed from my profile.

From all this I really get the feeling I've got a better grasp of this scamming thing then a lot of people supposedly working in the fields that would come across it, banks, eBay, police, etc, I'm thinking maybe I should look for work in security..  

Maybe my next post will be a list of tips to help protect yourself from being scammed.


  1. You should find out a contact for cybercrime in the police or ASIO and send them a report or whatever. Good story and well done for figuring it out.

  2. Here's another insidious scam reported in The Age:

    See if you can spot the point where the victim gets herself in much worse trouble because of her greed.

  3. Andee, you're my hero! Nice, nice work!


  4. Wow! I'd be very interested to hear how it goes with ebay banning the scammer and giving you any feedback.

    Well done :)

    Some have attempted to scam me when I was property hunting a few years ago, but luckily they were all well known methods at the time, according to Google. Hopefully many people read your story and spread it.


  5. Wow.. Some scamers go to the extremes.. Well.. Good to know you where one of the lucky ones with a good sense for it. Ebay could gain a bit more trust if TC/DC "tracking/delivery confirmation" where mandatory for all transaction.. I had been scam by seller and by buyers. (Cobra_seph)

  6. can you spammers fuck off with your make money online scams? Your post won't last a day here so get fucked.

  7. dude you are smart i comend you i understood everything u were meanimg to say the scammer feared he would be forced to repay the money back after proof of not getting the iphone so he wanted you to send the money from your account to his asap so you would end up being charged


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