Check scams common in Aspen
December 6, 2007
ASPEN ” When Barbara Young of Aspen placed a classified ad to sell a pair of skis, she was nearly caught in a check scam.
Young received an e-mail message from the Yahoo mail account of one Michael Mosh of London, telling her he’d like to buy her Salomon 1080s for the $300 she asked.
“That seemed OK, so I e-mailed him about the condition of the skis,” Young said.
Mosh said he would send an agent with money who would pick up the skis, but Young smelled a rat.
Why would he want to buy the skis from such a long way off?
“I said that I would accept a U.S. postal money-order,” Young said.
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But a few days later, Mosh mailed a cashier’s check for $2,150 listing the name Mike Daniel. The check was from National City Bank in Michigan.
“That’s when I knew it was a scam,” Young said.
“Here is the payment as you have been promised,” Mosh wrote in a typed note asking her to send the excess of $1,850 to one Janet Baker of London.
Young insisted on talking with Mosh on the phone, but he never made contact, she said.
“I didn’t want to go any farther,” Young said. But just out of curiosity, she took the check to a friend working at the Timberline Bank branch in Aspen.
A banker told Young they were sure the check would come back showing a lack of funds.
“I bet there are people out there who do it and don’t tell anybody,” Young said.
And, according to officials at the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, she’s right.
“It’s very common,” said Ron Ryan, director of investigations with the sheriff’s office. “If it sounds too good to be true, it always is.”
Ryan said he receives an average of two calls per month from people who either suspect a scam or have lost money.
“We get more than I expect for a community this size, and I think that it’s under reported because people feel that they should have been more aware,” Ryan said.
People who place ads for anything from lost items to sale goods often don’t realize that; because of the Internet, the information is accessible from anywhere in the world, Ryan said.
“We’re sort of a target for these types of things because of the Aspen name,” Ryan said.
And once someone is scammed and sends any money, it is rare that law enforcement officials can chase down the culprit.
“Unless you have cash in hand and know what you actually have, don’t do anything,” Ryan said. “Don’t ever send anyone money that you don’t know.”
Aspen police receive similar reports.
“Most of the time, thankfully, the calls that we do get are people that didn’t fall for it,” said Sgt. Dan Davis of the Aspen Police Department.
“Just totally ignore it,” he advises potential victims, adding that most of the time police can’t do much about the scam.
Scam artists play on people’s desire to sell their items and on the willingness of people to close a deal, Ryan said.
“The reality is that you do not know who you are dealing with,” Ryan said.
But he suggested that anyone who has a suspicious transaction or lost money should report the incident to police or sheriff’s deputies.
“We need to have that information,” Ryan said, adding that the statistics go to national and international databases.
“The chances of being able to find the person that frauded them is very small,” Ryan said, but repeated reports of scammers can uncover larger schemes.
Young escaped the recent scam and said she hopes her experience can only help someone else, but said, “I still haven’t sold my skis.”