Reader Chris writes:
Awhile back, I sold a ton of video games on Craigslist here in San Francisco. A buyer contacted me and agreed to purchase them and I was delighted. I didn’t have the time to post everything on eBay separately and I wanted to get the transaction over as quickly as possible. A week later, I received a Wal-mart money order in the mail and shipped off the packages.
Little did I know that money orders are just as easily faked as any other form of payment, so after a day or so after depositing the bogus money order into my Wells Fargo account, I got notice that my ATM card had been put on hold, as well as my checking and savings account funds. Confused, I stopped by my local Wells Fargo, who alerted me that the money order was fraudulent and that more than likely, their Security and Fraud department would be permanently closing my accounts. Frustrated, I tried to ask them why I would be the one getting the punishment when I was an unknowing victim of fraud. Unfortunately, the on-location staff had no answer and suggested I give the actual department a call on the phone. But first, they would fill out a fraud report and forward it to their Security and Fraud department.
So, I did, and got even more frustrating results. The man I spoke to was disinterested and dismissive, telling me that I should probably just prepare for my accounts to be closed. When I asked if there was any sort of recourse or action I could undertake to try to keep my accounts open, he simply said, “that’s not going to do you any good.” Even more insane was the fact that they claimed not to have received the fraud report I had personally filled out at the Wells Fargo location near my place of work.
Frustrated, out of the items I had sold, out of the money I had been scammed out of, and staring at the bleak possibility of having my credit or bank accounts ruined, I decided to do what I think most people out there don’t do – file a police report.
I’m not overly cautious person, but I was glad that I had saved every single email from the scammer, from the first email where he contacted me to the last. As expected, emailing the scammer didn’t do much good, as he wouldn’t response, despite the fact that I had put read-receipts on the emails I sent him and had gotten confirmation that they had been open. But, I did noticed that the scammer apparently was using an AOL account to access the Internet. And, if he was using AOL, he was probably also using AOL Instant Messenger. So, I added his AOL name to my AIM buddy list and voila, there he was.
Our exchange went down pretty much as I figured it was. I confronted him about the fake money order, he tried to defend himself by saying he had purchased them off eBay. I laid out to him exactly all the steps I was going through to protect myself (filing a police report in San Francisco, filing a police report in Pennsylvania where the scammer resided, filing a report with the State Attorney General’s Office, etc). At that point he got extremely defensive, threatened me, and referred me to his legal counsel, which conveniently enough had a Yahoo email address (go figure).
After filing reports for what seemed like forever, I expected nothing to come of my claims. I was ready to cut my losses and learn a valuable lesson at the same time. Well, I learned my lesson, but was entirely surprised when I was contacted by a computer crimes officer in Pennsylvania who was investigating the scammer and needed my help. Luckily, I had saved all of my emails with him, including the AIM chat logs. Needless to say, this ended up being enough to get this guy arrested. Here is the link to the newspaper article that ran when the guy was arrested:It seems like he had been scamming folks for some time, but I’m happy to see that maybe, in some sort of way, my case was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Although it looks like I won’t be getting back either the money I was scammed out of or the items I sent the scammer, this whole situation does give me some renewed faith in the police and the fact that reporting a crime, even one originating on the seemingly lawless Internet, can result in some justice.
Oh, and to give you an update on Wells Fargo, both the investigating officer and myself tried repeatedly to get them to fax us a copy of the fake money order for use in the criminal investigation. And, both times, Wells Fargo actually faxed both of us the wrong money order (and at that, money order’s that are obviously from someone else’s account). Needless to say, I think I’ll be changing banks very soon.
But for those folks out there who’ve gotten scammed, I hope my story gives you a bit of hope that scammers do get punished.
Here’s the newspaper article that Chris mentioned. Turns out the guy was already on parole for sexual assault! Chris is like Batman!
Known Internet scammer in county prison for fake money orders
CENTER TWP — A reputed Internet scam artist is in the Butler County Prison today following his arrest Thursday for allegedly sending a counterfeit money order to a California man for more than 200 video games.
The case, according to state police Cpl. John Stepansky, a computer crime investigator at the Butler barracks, should serve as a reminder: let the online buyer beware.
Federal authorities already suspected Justin M. Castilyn, 28, of Holyoke Road, Center Township of scamming eight victims when the state police arrested him in the latest case.
Police said Castilyn by way of Craigslist.com, an online classified ads site, agreed in August to buy 212 video games from a San Francisco man.
The seller told police he shipped the games to Castilyn’s home after receiving a money order for $1,950. But then learned the money order was fake.
Stepansky said that during his investigation he learned of the defendant’s past victims after contacting the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership of the FBI and the nonprofit National White Collar Crime Center.
Castilyn in those other cases failed to either provide merchandise or pay for products from online transactions.
Police got a search warrant on Thursday and seized two computers as well as 12 other suspected counterfeit money orders from the defendant’s house, documents said.
District Judge Lewis Stoughton arraigned Castilyn on charges of forgery, access device fraud, receiving stolen property and unlawful use of a computer.
Already on parole for a 2000 conviction in a sexual assault case in Butler County, Castilyn remains in the county jail on $75,000 bond.
Police reminded computer users to be alert when buying products online. Stepansky recommended dealing with reputable businesses.