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Twist on Nigeria Scam Targets Online Auctions

The Pennsylvania Attorney General's office yesterday urged people who sell items online through Internet auction services to beware a new Nigerian scam aimed at fooling them into wiring money abroad.

Three victims in Pennsylvania already have lost about $26,000 to the scam, the state Attorney General's office said. The attorney general of Idaho issued a similar warning earlier this week.

The scam targets people selling big-ticket items online such as boats, cars and motorcycles. The seller receives an e-mail from a “buyer” in Africa expressing interest in purchasing the item offered.

Later, the buyer concocts an excuse to send a bank cashier's check in excess of the purchase price if the seller agrees to wire back the difference. The seller receives the cashier's check and, assuming the offer is legitimate after the check clears, complies with the request to wire back the money.

One to three weeks later, the seller learns from the bank that the check is counterfeit. The bank demands the check amount be returned in full, so the seller loses both the purchase price and the money that was wired to the buyer, who then cuts off all contact.

In one case in Pennsylvania, a woman lost $12,500 to the scam after a man in Lagos, Nigeria, offered to buy her car. The Nigerian con artists even targeted a deputy attorney general in the Idaho Attorney General's office, who recognized the scam and did not wire money.

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