Nigerian scam artists target Burgin man

December 23, 2004|BOBBIE CURD

BURGIN - Ron Gaddis is a paint contractor who breeds and sells poodles as a hobby. He recently bought a classified ad in The Advocate listing his puppies for sale.

But when he got a phone call from a man requesting three dogs to be shipped to the United Kingdom, and money to be wired to Nigeria, Gaddis knew something was up.

"He called me on Saturday and had one of those translator operators on the line," Gaddis said, but he was never told if the caller was deaf, or what the reason was for the translator. The caller was typing in his message, and it was being read by an operator.

The caller, who identified himself as Michael Davids, never said where he was calling from. "Davids" told Gaddis that he was relocating to the United Kingdom, and would like to purchase three of the poodle pups for his children.


Gaddis said that he was given a working e-mail,, and gave the caller his personal e-mail address.

"After we corresponded, we agreed that he would be sending me a check for three puppies, and he said he'd get back in touch with me to explain how to handle the shipping," Gaddis said.

Wednesday morning around 7:30, Gaddis received a phone call from a man who had a thick but indistinct accent.

He would receive check for $3,500, then send $2,300 to Nigeria

The man said Gaddis would be receiving a $3,500 check through UPS by lunchtime, and told him to cash the check, keep $1,200 for the three puppies, then immediately wire the remaining $2,300 to Nigeria.

"He said it was a friend that owed him a favor and was doing (paying for) the shipping," Gaddis said.

The instructions sounded odd, Gaddis said, but the man even gave him a password for his friend's Western Union account.

"I went ahead and gave the money order to Farmers Bank in Burgin, and they were about to cash it," Gaddis said. But first he asked if they had a way to check its authenticity.

The bank in Kansas from which the money order was supposedly issued confirmed that it was bogus.

"If I hadn't said anything to the bank about questioning it, and they would've cashed it, I'd be out the $3,500," Gaddis said.

When a cashier's check is used, the funds are normally released immediately. When the bank notifies the victim that the check is fraudulent, the victim is held responsible for the full amount of the check.

"The horrible thing about it is there's really no way to track these," said Judy Paula, vice president of Valley State Bank in Syracuse, Kansas. The counterfeit money order Gaddis received is printed as if it came from Paula's bank.

"We found out that these were circulating back in November, and since then we've received close to 200 calls, at least," Paula said.

"Money orders, cashier's checks - they really are the same thing, just money," Paula said.

He went to the police

Gaddis went to the police. He met with a sheriff's deputy and explained his circumstances.

Deputy Erick Barkman said that after he met with Gaddis, he contacted a city detective with Harrodsburg, "... and Detective Bradshaw let me know that since it was a counterfeit money order the Secret Service should probably be in on it."

Gaddis called the Secret Service and was told this scenario was mounting problem, but that the Nigerian government was not cooperating.

"They told me that they couldn't get anywhere with their investigation on the matter, and that was about it," Gaddis said.

Gaddis also called the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Louisville and was told that it would take a few hours for someone to get back to him because of the inclement weather.

According to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, there are many scams circulating around like this one.

An "intelligence note" posted on the Web site, dated Nov. 4, 2003, indicates that the scam has been running for some time.

The scheme is said to target individuals who use Internet classified ads to sell merchandise. It outlines a scenario that sounds extremely similar to Gaddis' story.

"The seller is told that the buyer has an associate that owes him money. He will have the associate send the seller a cashier's check for the amount owed to the buyer. This amount will be thousands of dollars more than the price of the merchandise, and the seller is told the excess amount will be used to pay the shipping costs associated with getting the merchandise to his location. The seller is instructed to deposit the check, and as soon as it clears to wire (Western Union) the excess funds back to the buyer, or to another associate identified as a shipping agent. In most instances, the money is sent to locations in West Africa (Nigeria)."

Check the signature line

Paula said one way to detect a fraudulent money order is the signature line. "Most money orders or cashier checks require two signatures if the amount is over $1,000. If the one you're holding is like the others going around, they've changed that to reflect $10,000," Paula said.

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