Musician's Scam Alert
My new trombone colleague had an interesting experience last weekend that he was kind enough to share in order to alert others. As we have learned of other musicians who have fallen for this, it seemed appropriate to get this information out. Thanks to Dr. Chris Buckholtz for sharing this story!
I hate mass email just as much as you do (and this is a long one to boot), but I just had something interesting happen to me that I think everyone should be aware of. According to Wells Fargo here in Cedar Falls, this scam is fairly new but has happened often enough to be alarming.
I was contacted two weeks ago by email by a guy from Belgium named Peter Lars. He wanted trombone lessons from his son, who was supposed to be a high school exchange student in Cedar Falls. The son was to stay with cousins in the area. He wanted two lessons a week, every week for six months. I gave him a price of $100 per week thinking that if he didn't like it, so what; more free time for me. He agreed to the price and said that he would send a check to cover the lessons. He seemed fairly
knowledgeable, and while I wouldn't hire a teacher without meeting them first, he said his kid was really serious, he trusted me because of my position, and he liked my credentials.
Yesterday, I received a cashier's check for $8700. He called me last night and I explained that the check was for $6300 too much. He said his wife sent the check and he would talk to her and call me back. When he called back, he said that his wife sent the wrong check. She sent me the check that was supposed to go to his son's hosts here for living
expenses. When I asked him what I should do about it, he said to deposit the check and then send the extra money to a "travel agency" in Belgium by Western Union. His son needed the money for his trip, so there wasn't time to send a new check. I said I would go to the bank today and deposit it.
As I drove to the bank this morning, Peter called me. I told him that the bank would hold the check for at least a day, so that I couldn't send the funds until at least Monday. He said that was fine; we had to do what the banks require. Then I got to Wells Fargo. They looked at
the check and said it seemed bogus. They looked at it under ultraviolet light and the usual security marks weren't there. They would have to hold a check like this for four days. I decided not to deposit the check.
I then called the bank that it was drawn on in Elmhurst, IL by calling information. They asked me to fax them a copy of the check. I went to my office to write a fax cover letter and decided to get the bank's office phone # while I was at it. When I Googled their name and
location, the first page listed was for an FDIC fraud website. The bank is real, but the bank has been victimised by check counterfeiters. One of the routing numbers on the check was wrong for this bank. Sometimes the fake checks have the right routing number on them. The check is a very good quality forgery. I never would have suspected it as a fake, and fortunately the bank caught it.I've called the FBI, but they probably get this all the time. According to the cashiers at Wells Fargo, they've seen several fake cashier's checks recently that were sent by relatives of "foreign students." The checks are always made out for too much money, and they expect you to deposit them and send the amount over back.
I mention this story to you because I really thought that Mr."Lars" wanted lessons for his kid. This wasn't a letter from Nigeria, or an email asking if I wanted to make a quick buck for doing nothing. This guy took time and effort to research what I do and to tailor his scam to
me personally. He provided addresses, phone numbers, and legitimate email addresses. He answered all my concerns and questions about his son in a reasonable manner. His initial email to me was not spam. He targeted me because I am a music educator who gives lessons. It seems like educators, who naturally trust and want to help students from
overseas, would be good marks for this scam.
And yes, feel free to insert whatever dumb trombone player joke you wish