Cashier's Checks Used In Web Scams

041201, snappy, Internet Fraud, MGS

CBS's Vince Gonzales reports on a new scam, aimed at Americans from outside this country, which blends new technology -- sales on the Internet -- with one of the oldest crimes in the book: counterfeiting.

When Michelle Brown offered her car for sale online, a foreign buyer sent a cashier's check for nearly $6,000 more than her asking price.

"He said 'You keep the portion that's for you your car, and then the rest you have to send to my shipper,'" Brown said.

She deposited the cashier's check with no problems.

"I figured if the bank had a problem with it, I would know whether this was bad or not," she said.

It was bad all right. But the bank didn't notify her until ten days later.

"I've lost, so far, over $8,000 with all the fees and the loans."

CBS tried to track the scam artists. But the London address was fake. They used untraceable Nigerian cell phones and vanished after picking up the money she wired to this Western Union.

"I've never heard of a counterfeit cashier's check in my life," says Brown.

But banks have heard about it. At least 40 times this year, the federal government sent alerts to the heads of every financial institution in the country -- warning about a growing international scam using counterfeit cashier's checks.

Washington Mutual, which declined an on camera interview, says it sends these alerts on to branch managers.

But apparently their customers aren't warned.

"I'm being treated like I'm a criminal. ... like a convict or something,'' said Brown. "Like I did this on purpose."

She was treated like royalty compared to Isabel Negrete. This stay-at-home mom tried to sell a vintage stove on-line.

"Fifties style is coming back. I thought somebody would want it,'' she said.

Unfortunately, that somebody was a crook from Nigeria. When she went to deposit the cashier's check, Bank of America called the issuing bank, found out it was counterfeit. Then they called the police.

"I didn't think it would be this hard to say it," said Negrete, beginning to cry. "They proceeded to handcuff me. It was very humiliating. It was awful. I was very scared.

She was brought to a county jail still handcuffed. Then she was booked, photographed and stripped-searched.

"It's been devastating," she says. "Very humiliating."

Bank of America wouldn't speak on camera about the arrest. But a spokesman says tellers followed proper procedure. Police, however, are no longer investigating Isabel Negrete.

Gonzales broke the news to Negrete that the police department was going to recommend that no charges be filed against Negrete

"Are you serious?,'' she said, hugging Gonzales.

While some scam victims wonder if they'll ever get back on their feet financially, Negrete says the counterfeiters, the bank, and the police have taken something from her that can never be replaced.