After about two weeks later, the cheque arrived. It was in Euros, and at the current exchange it was for over £3000 more than the cost of the artwork. This was more than I anticipated, so I emailed the 'buyer' to give them two options: he cancel the cheque, or I deposit the cheque and return the balance to the account detailed on it. He replied that he wished to proceed with the purchase, asked me to deposit the cheque and that his accountant would be in touch. Again, at this point I wasn't too suspicious - the cheque was drawn from a bank which is part of the same banking group as mine, so I assumed due diligence had been carried out on the client. I duly deposited the cheque.
A few days later, the 'buyer' returns with his request for the transfer of the excess funds. MoneyGram to Sweden. He then changes his mind and requests Western Union, taking all transfer commission from the balance. I now knew something was wrong - nobody would transfer money in this way when there were at least two simpler and cheaper alternatives (cancel the cheque, or bank transfer back to the original cheque account.)
I contacted my bank, who now have a fraud marker on my account. I also contacted ActionFraud, and was issued with a crime reference number. With the benefit of hindsight, I feel I should've spotted the fraud earlier. However, the initial exchange of emails (especially the 'buyer' asking for more information about the individual artworks) coloured my view. It was only the request for money transfer via Western Union that aroused my suspicions. On contacting my bank I also learnt that cheques can be credited to accounts and drawn upon, but can later bounce at which point I am liable for any of the bogus cheque money I have withdrawn.
Using Google I found that overpayment is a common Western Union scam. This involves a buyer of an item sending the victim seller a cheque for a higher amount than the agreed sale price. The buyer then expects the seller to refund the difference via Western Union, however the original cheque does not cash – leaving the seller with no payment for the goods, and liable for the transferred funds. I also googled the address the 'buyer' wanted the artwork sent to. It was not a holiday home as they had said, but in fact a public library. Thankfully neither the excess funds or the artwork have been sent.
Here's a list of money transfer never-evers from Western Union's own website.
- Never send money to people you haven't met in person.
- Never send money to pay for taxes or fees on lottery or prize winnings.
- Never use a test question as an additional security measure to protect your transaction.
- Never provide your banking information to people or businesses you don’t know.
- Never send money in advance to obtain a loan or credit card.
- Never send money for an emergency situation without verifying that it’s a real emergency.
- Never send funds from a check in your account until it officially clears—which can take weeks.
- Never send a money transfer for online purchases.