Monday, February 22, 2010

Latino Community and Internet Financial Fraud

I received a frantic telephone call on Thursday afternoon from my cousin who was born and raised in Ecuador but currently resides in Kendall, FL. After a few minutes of a harried conversation in Spanglish, she finally said, “oh my God, how could I have been so stupid, stupid, stupid.” My cousin has been the most recent victim of Internet financial fraud, and in the process has been swindled out of $3,800.

I assured her this type of financial fraud is very very common and the FBI has been looking into these types of financial frauds for years. I was rather surprised that she had never heard of these investigations. What happened to my cousin has happened to many many people. What I was more interested in determining was how a college-educated, well-experienced, accessories merchandise buyer for some of the most renowned fashion designer houses for more than 15 years, became the victim of a internet financial fraud scheme. She admitted that with the financial crisis, her job is not as secure as it used to be, and she was looking on the Internet, primarily on Hispanic-focused Internet websites for ways to make a little extra cash by working as a translator.

Last week, she responded to an email that offered her the opportunity to be a “secret shopper,” which required her to evaluate customer service procedures of local retailers in her community. This sounded right up her alley. The email suggested that the “Company” was looking for a “few secret shoppers in her area, and they would only select a few local residents.” She immediately, filled out an on-line form, which requested her personal data such name, address, and description of local community in particular types of retail stores. No credit card or banking information was requested. (I gather that would have triggered a red flag for potential victims.) A few days later she received a cashiers check for $3,800. The instructions required her to cash the check at “her local bank,” go to Western Union (WU) evaluate how well her local WU representative handled transactions with the public, in particular she should evaluate the level of courtesy, language ability, and efficiency displayed by WU representative. Once she had observed the WU representative she should conduct her own transaction and wire $3,600 (she should retain $200 as payment for her services) from the cashiers check that she had cashed at her local bank to the Company, which was located in Dubai, United Arabs Emirate.

My cousin immediately sent an email to the company and pointed out that $3,800 was a great deal of money for an initial customer service assignment, and whether there was anything “underhanded or potentially illegal” regarding the nature of the assignment. She received an immediate email response that assured her that the assignment was “100% LEGAL” and the amount of the cashiers check was the Company’s way of determining whether they were dealing with “honest secret shoppers.” My cousin’s fears were alleviated, and she performed her assignment as requested within approximately two hours of receiving the cashiers check including sending an evaluation report to the Company. She did not receive a response email from the Company. A few hours later, having heard nothing from the Company, she called me frantically, and shared this disturbing story.

The unfortunate reality is that the “cashiers check” is a fraudulent check. It was drawn on the United Federation of Teacher's Credit Union in Washington, D.C. A brief conversation with their Legal Department confirmed that they do not have a “secret shopper” pilot program nor do they have any representative or independent contractor that is located in Dubai, United Arabs Emirate. The check will not clear the inter-bank clearing process, which takes 2-3 days for in-state-checks and 3-5 days for out-of-state checks to clear. The account that the “cashiers check” is drawn on is not an active account. My cousin has been told that her local bank will withdraw the $3,800 funds from her personal account once the inter-bank clearing process rejects the cashiers check. I have advised my cousin to file a financial fraud affidavit with her local police department, which will permit her to file a theft and casualty loss on her itemized tax return for 2010. I also advised her to forward all correspondence to and from the Company to the FBI Criminal Investigation Division unit including the envelope in which the cashiers check was sent to her for forensic testing. The FBI Financial Crimes Report to the Public is available here. It really should be translated into multiple languages especially Spanish and French.

My cousin has learnt an expensive lesson. However, her experience has galvanized her to create an Internet Financial Fraud brochure in Spanish, which she will share with primarily Spanish speaking community groups in South Florida. I am a strong believer that all things no matter how demoralizing and painful they may be, happen for a higher purpose. Hopefully, my cousin’s unfortunate experience will prove to be a learning experience for many many people.

Lydie Nadia Cabrera Pierre-Louis

1 comment:

  1. The financial crisis is pushing people into desperation. Unfortunately desparation causes certain people to take advanatage of others. I feel sorry for your consin and the thousands of other that have been defrauded this way. Education is the key. More jobs would helpful.


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