A few weeks ago I was contacted by a delightful person wanting to buy some work that his wife had seen on my website. After a couple of emails he settled on two pieces with a combined value of £1000. They were for a special wedding anniversary present.
I was over the moon. No-one had ever spent this much on my work in one go and I was so pleased that they were going to be a special present. The discussion coincided with my best month since setting up as an artist; I felt as if the world was alright!
A cheque was sent. But no sooner had he emailed me to say that he had posted my money than he sent me another email to tell me that, due to a misunderstanding, he (well his accounts manager) had made the cheque out for too much. Please could I cash the cheque when it arrived and repay him the excess. Sure, I could do that. No problem. I nearly sent the money before the cheque arrived. This man was charming and not only buying a generous present from me but also now out of pocket.
What stopped me? Prudence – and a strange feeling about the communications. Before very long I began to be pressurised by daily emails asking if the money had arrived. I stalled – I wanted the confidence that the cheque had been honoured by the bank. There were tell tail signs that something wasn’t quite right but I felt really guilty for thinking them. One should never treat one’s customers with suspicion – right? Yet I couldn’t help wondering. Firstly the cheque was in euros but he wanted the repayment in sterling and into a different bank. Secondly his English was not good – not a crime but when added to other suspicions it seemed to begin to matter. In addition, he kept talking about visiting his post office to know if I had repaid the money – why would he do that? Why not call his bank or check online? Then there was the intensity of the emails which was, by now, beginning to make me feel quite stressed.
I called my bank to ask how soon the money would be available and was told that, because it was in euros, it could take six weeks. Now I felt really bad. The poor guy! Should I pay him his money and send the goods? What if we missed his anniversary because I was being so cautious and tight?
Eventually I got a letter from the bank. The cheque had been cleared. The money was in my account. But the last part of the letter told me that, until they had checked it fully, I could not be confident that it would remain there. Really?? Surely now I should give this guy his money. I didn’t. Why not? Because he was now being rather a nuisance in his emails and I decided to make him sweat – whilst also feeling really guilty about it.
Two days later I received another letter from the bank telling me that the funds were no longer in my bank, that they were charging me £15 costs and that the cheque was probably fraudulent. I wrote to my customer telling him what had happened and asking him to get in touch. Oddly, the daily emails now came to an abrupt end. 48 hours later I received a call from the fraud department at the bank asking me for details of the transaction. As a result of the conversation that I had with the bank I contacted the police who are now dealing with it.
It turns out that this scam is currently doing the rounds and that it is directed chiefly at artists and other self employed people with a small turnover. The charm and the warm fuzzy story at the start are all part of the plan – although if you ask me this guy had to put a lot of effort into getting the £2000 ‘overpayment’ out of me even if I had given it to him.
I am posting this blog because I was so nearly ‘got’ and I would hate for anyone else to fall victim to this scam. I truly hate people who take others for a ride in this way. I watched my own dad be destroyed by a (far worse) scam and I think the people who decide that this is a way to make a living are absolutely despicable. How they sleep at night I would love to know. I mean to say, who do they think they are tricking honest people out of their hard earned cash like this?
Thank goodness this time I wasn’t taken in but, please, if something like this happens to you, be on your guard. Do not assume that the customer is necessarily right. Times have changed, apparently!
And if you have been the victim of a crime like this, or you think you might have been, and you live in UK contact the police using this link