Linux, musical road-dogging, and daily life by Paul W. Frields
Ignoring the little voice.

Ignoring the little voice.

Sorry, BoingBoing, I call bullsh*t (follow this link for a better report, albeit one that misses the point). The solution in this case is simple — contact the account holder directly to confirm the amount of the check. If you receive a check that far exceeds your asking price for an auction, you know something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Call it conscience, spidey-sense, whatever, but to go ahead and try and cash a check to which your inner voice tells you, loud and clear, you’re not entitled is plain stupid.

A similar scam happened to me once in an eBay auction, where I paid a ridiculously low price for an item I wanted (in this case, a 10-DVD Oliver Stone movie collection). The seller reneged, saying there had been some nebulous problem in shipping. The seller said he would return my money, and throw in a little bit extra for my time and trouble.

A couple weeks later, I was beginning to think I should contact the eBay fraud squad, but I received a check in the mail. The problems? 1. It was from a completely different person than the seller. 2. The amount of the check far exceeded the cost of the auction I’d won. 3. Down in the corner “comment” section, the check said “Nintendo GameCube,” and a Yahoo! auction number.


I looked at Yahoo, and sure enough, there was an auction I’d never seen before, with my address listed for the winner to send money. I immediately called the woman listed on the face of the check and explained the situation. She was very nice, and I voided the check with her on the phone, and sent a photocopy to her along with contact information in case she needed to reach me.

I also contacted the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, but I bet you can guess exactly how far that got me. ? The one saving grace was that, for some odd reason, the seller had conducted the auction through an escrow house, and they refunded my money after I contacted their customer service with a minimum of fuss.

Had I cashed the woman’s check, I would have been guilty of fraud. I realized this only later, but not realizing it didn’t affect my decision making.

So the point of this story, I suppose, could be, nyah-nyah, I’m a lot smarter than Matthew Shinnick. More importantly, though, it’s that I did the right thing, and it would have been easy for him to do so. Matthew, you should have known better. Did you really believe in your heart that this scam made sense, and that you somehow deserved an extra $1400 for shipping a $600 set of bicycles? No, I suspect Matthew was one of many people who think it’s OK if you get away with it. Unfortunately, he was in way over his (apparently empty) head.

None of this, of course, changes the fact that Bank of America sucks, but this case is probably not a good bellwether for that discussion.

One comment

  1. I generally agree with your assessment. But I did notice Shinnick’s assertion that he had not been read his Miranda rights. He may not have heard them in the hubbub. I imagine he was in shock.

    Yeah, you are right that people should know better – at the very least, ask questions. The story mentions he called his parents (at age 38, no less). He might have called his dad before depositing the check. Then again, the way many people think today is derived from how they were raised, so who knows how he’d have been counseled.

    I grew up seeing my garage always full of rolls of paper towels, far more than seemed necessary – and we always seemed to have interesting small packets of coffee, lots of them, the sort you don’t find in the store, but in offices. It only occurred to me later that my dad was taking them from his office for his personal use at home. I’m sure he felt justified – the entitlement mentality of narcissists. Because of how I was raised, I still check myself from time to time on such things (such as blogging from work, which I try to limit to before, during lunch, and afterwards).

    It’s a slippery slope best avoided completely where possible.

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