Friday, November 21, 2008

Any Wonder Crime Flourishes?

As an old fashioned Southern Conservative, the thought of rising crime is and has been unacceptable to me. It has long escaped me why crime continues to rise in spite of all the efforts we hear of fighting crime, the reality Cop shows where the criminals are caught and arrested and even the Court shows where they are convicted and sentenced.

Okay, we all know the Drama Shows are fictional. Dragnet, Adam 12, Starsky & Hutch and all were actors playing a role, but with the reality shows today and news reports, we are led to believe citizens and the authorities are effectively fighting crime.

And still, crime rises. Theory after theory is given as to why. Poverty, oppressive parents, harsh parental discipline and more are blamed. I reject those reasons myself. Oh, abuse may play a role in a small minority of cases, but I know of several people who survived abuse and did not turn to a life of crime to justify that theory.

Through personal experience I have discovered why at least one segment of the rising crime rate continues. That segment being fraud, criminal fraud through the mail, old-fashioned scam artists.

Let me back up a bit and explain.

Both my wife and I operate small online sales over the internet reselling items we purchase at clearance and closeout sales to supplement our incomes. Nothing major, a good month might bring us a couple hundred dollars extra. For the most part, we deal with very nice people who appreciate finding something they missed when the item was popular in regular stores and we strive to price the items fairly. Nothing too unusual that several other people have begun doing.

We were surprised to receive in the mail a Cashiers Check for nearly $300.00 for an order through her online sales. Surprised because the purchaser did not go through the actual selling site, but copied the order and sent it to us in the mail, bypassing the selling site.

Unusual, yes, but some people can be quirky.

Our initial elation began to wane once she realized the items ordered totaled less than $130.00. Recalling several warnings of online scams, we decided to check into this surprise order.

We discovered that as we suspected, it is the fraudulent check scam where they request the items shipped next day mail and please send them the over payment, leaving us stuck for the total amount and charges once the fraudulent check came back as a fraud, if we had deposited the check.

This check was an excellent forgery, even to the watermarks on the backside and looked very official. We discovered it was a forgery once we called the “bank” that supposedly issued it, Southshore Currency at 110 N. Lake St. Chicago, Il. 60601, drawn in affiliation with J.P. Morgan Chase Bank.

Southshore Currency assured us they were not a bank and did not issue Cashiers Checks from JP Morgan Chase Bank. They do not have an office located at N. Lake St in Chicago as N. lake Street is an East-West arterial anyways.

The routing number on the check was authentic, but for a bank located in Michigan.

The last confirmation we needed was for the purchaser, “Tyson Williams,” most assuredly an assumed name, replied to an email questioning the transaction just as we expected, “ship next day send refund for overpayment.”

At this point, I began discovering why criminals continue to get away with this sort of fraud. Calls to all the Banks listed resulted in numerous incidences of being passed on to another person, once to someone in the Philippines. None wanted to be involved with a fraudulent check written on their bank saying they could do nothing!

Trying our local Washington Mutual Bank, who is now affiliated with JP Morgan Chase Bank, resulted in much the same. All they could do was deposit it and see if it cleared. Uh, no. We already know it is a fraudulent check, why deposit it?

Getting frustrated in trying to report this in hopes it would be taken serious enough to maybe try to find whoever it is perpetrating these crimes, we decided to make a call to the Chicago Police, since it originated in their city.

Explaining it to the officer who first answered, he replied, “throw it away, it’s a scam.” Thanks, like we didn’t know that. Reminding him that we knew it was a scam already and we were trying to report it, he informed us, “there’s nothing we can do, you have the check.”

He did give us a “non-emergency” number elsewhere in Chicago to report it. Or at least we thought. Calling there resulted in the same reply, “there’s nothing we can do, the check is in your state.” Asking if they would like us to send them the check, letter and envelope elicited the reply, “no, just throw it away.”

Thinking maybe it qualified as Mail Fraud, I called the local Post Office and explained it to them. I was first informed that fraud had not been committed because we hadn’t deposited the check and been victimized. Pressing a bit further, the person I talked to finally said I could bring it all to the Post Office and they could look into it and could possibly use it as evidence.

I even called the FBI to inquire about it and was told it was a scam again, duh! The FBI Agent did say report it as Mail Fraud as the FBI had no jurisdiction in it and it was Mail Fraud.

We ended up giving it to the Post Office who took our information and what might be called a “report” on “sticky notes,” saying if they needed additional info, they’d get back to us.

Needless to say my eyes were opened on this sort of crime. I realize it isn’t a major crime and had we fallen for it, we would have been out maybe $200.00 or so, plus the items. But, how many others have received fraudulent checks as this and were not lucky enough to spot the forgery? Is it possible the person responsible for this fraud has made hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars off of unsuspecting people nationwide?

More importantly to me, have we gotten so lackadaisical that we just write off crimes as this and let the criminal walk to victimize the next unsuspecting person, possibly an older person trying to supplement their income a little?

This isn’t a murder, rape or violent crime, but a crime nonetheless.

How do we follow McGruff’s “Take a Bite Out Of Crime” if all we do is file these crimes in the circular file?

Watch out for yourselves, folks. In these “lesser crimes,” it seems as if we are on our own.


Angie Lee said...

I posed this question once: If a law has been broken and evidence exists to justify prosecution yet it is dismissed as "irrelevant," why is there a law in the first place?

"Well, uhhh, see, it's like this... the DA's got a stack of murder and rape cases this high {motion with hands} on his desk, he doesn't care about stupid stuff like this."

A crime has been committed but written off as "stupid" by those sworn to uphold said law. Doesn't that make the law itself STUPID and those who created it STUPID for having done so? And how stupid does that make ME, for believing in that law?

A law is a law. Failing to apply justice (or selectively applying, which is WORSE) to violations of "miscellaneous" laws sets the stage for creeping of failure to prosecute larger and more nefarious infractions. Today check fraud. Tomorrow shoplifting. Next Wednesday domestic violence. Two Fridays from now shooting the clerk at the 7-11. It won't stop. People are overloaded and have shut down, don't care, don't act, don't engage. The more we allow, the worse it will become. (Them ripples again, dontchaknow?)

Kinda like a 3-year-old testing limits. If mom and dad don't set them, little Johnny goes a bit further every time, to see what he can get away with - until one day down the road Johnny's sitting in prison for bashing his newborn's skull against the wall, mom's sitting in the shrink's office asking "Where did I go wrong?" and dad's drunk himself into an early grave.

LewWaters said...

That's why I wrote this, allee. I was shocked that in spite of all the warnings and sites set up to caution of these scams, no one really wants to act on them when discovered.

For all I know, the Post Office took the originals just to shut us up and will file them away, permantently in the circular file.

Granted, as I said, it isn't a major crime, but could it one day be one becuase they contiue to get away with it?

Ms Calabaza said...

I think the difference between a "serious" crime and a "lesser" crime is when it happens to you or one of your loved ones, it's definitely a "serious" one . . . otherwise, no big deal . . .

LewWaters said...

Judging by the responses we received everywhere we turned, they must also feel it is "no big deal."

Marc Washburn said...

My e-commerce site was hit by Tyson Willams as well. We even UPS'd the $800.00 worth of product he had ordered. We had two Tellers at our bank look at the cashiers check and both said it was a 99% chance that the check was legit as it had a watermark etc.

Luckily I woke up early the morning the 2 day air delivery was scheduled for and logged into my bank account. Sure enough the money was gone. I didn't even have to call the bank to figure out what happened. I immediately called UPS and intercepted the package which had gone for delivery an hour earlier.

Unfortunately over $200 in shipping and handling as well as the product we shipped had to be purchased from the wholesaler. Will probably have to deal with the financial repercussions for through Christmas.

LewWaters said...

Marc, I'm really sorry you got stung by whoever this is. We count ourselves as very lucky to have spotted it. The check we had was very authentic looking, down to water marks and all.

If it hadn't been for the overage of the amount, we too might have been stung.

Pogue Mahogue said...

Lew, when you say "we ended up giving it to the post office", do you mean you handed it over to a neighborhood station or to a postal inspector? My experience with fraud investigations was at the local level dealing with state laws, but I believe it isn't necessary for you to attempt to cash or deposit the check in order to for this to be a crime; the federal crime was complete when "Tyson Williams" mailed the counterfeit check.

If this was a stand-alone incident it's unlikely the postal inspectors would do much with it. The costs of putting a prosecutable case together - probably in Illinois - would be prohibitive. However, from what Marc said, it's clear that this isn't a one time shot for Tyson. That being the case, the postal inspectors could very well be actively working this case.

You might want to call the Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455.

LewWaters said...

Pogue, we gave it to the Postal Inspectors office.

I realize this is "small potatos" in regards to other crimes, but as you note, whoever this "Tyson Williams" really is seems to be bigger than we realize.

I really didn't expect anyone to jump through hoops over our case, but I hope that it is at least evidence used in prosecuting whoever it is.

The quality of the check would have to be seen to be realized. I wouldn't doubt they stole actual checks to forge.

In addition to what I explained above, we also placed comemnts on the online selling sites we use warning others to be aware of this name and watch out for Cashiers Checks unexpectedly showing up.

Unknown said...

As a Chicago person you can feel lucky you don,t try to live here our.Don't have to call them for the south or westside for somthing dangerous.

LewWaters said...

Sadly, Carlos, I think what you describe is in nearly every large city.

At least in smaller towns, we still retain some right to defend ourselves. (so far)

Attiq Ur Rehman said...

I think the reason are absolutely right that the crime are rises despite of so many struggle against the crime. But their are few important thing which are causes for these crimes poverty, oppressive parents, harsh parental discipline and so many more things.

LewWaters said...

Attiq, while I agree that a small portion of crimes result from individuals subjected to what you say, I feel the vast majority are by greedy persons with no conscience.

If what you claim were the main reason, we would have seen much higher crimes during the Great Depression of the 1930's when poverty and hard times, as well as stricter discipline, was much more prevelant than today.

There is no one single cause and in cases as these scams, we must stick together to curb them ourselves. The authorities, for what ever reason, just can't handle them with priority.

Thanks for commenting.