LILLINGTON, N.C. — The Internet can be a great place to buy, sell, and if people are not careful, get taken.
Matthew Miller, 18, found out the hard way. In this case, a Jeep, the Internet and a phony check added up to a loss worth thousands.
"I guess I was trying to be too nice of a person and that's when everything went downhill," he said.
In September, Miller posted an online ad to sell his Jeep. Soon after, the criminology student found himself caught up in an online scam.
It started with an offer from a man claiming to be an overseas "export agent." The deal did not work, but the "buyer" already sent a check for $9,300 -- partly for the Jeep and partly for the person picking it up. Instead of just returning the check, the buyer wanted Miller to cash it and wire the money.
Miller admitted that sounds ridiculous now, but said at the time the scammer made sense.
"I guess I had confidence in what he was saying because of the way he was saying it. The answers that he gave me didn't seem far-fetched or out of the ordinary," he said.
Miller took the check to the State Employees Credit Union, where he said tellers made phone calls and then gave him the cash. Because of wire limits, Miller first sent $4,380 back to the buyer. He was about to send the rest of the money when a Western Union employed warned it smelled of a scam.
It is the latest Internet fraud -- scammers look for people trying to sell products online. They send certified checks and then find some reason that some or all of the money needs to be wired back. Often, the check is fraudulent and the people on the receiving end do not find out until it is too late.
The check Miller received was fake and he now owes the bank $4,380.
"That made me feel pretty bad," he said.
Five On Your Side learned the State Employees Credit Union put out a warning to its members in July.
Spokeswoman Leigh Brady would not say why Miller's check did not raise a red flag to tellers. She added "when you deposit a check, the responsibility of the check goes with you."
Miller is trying to work out payment arrangements with the State Employees Credit Union and learned an expensive lesson.
"I've learned not to be so generous, and I guess you'd say, be nice to people you don't know," he said.
The Secret Service estimates hundreds of millions of dollars have been lost to the many different Nigerian scams and once that money is gone, it is gone.
So if you get a "certified" check from someone you don't know, don't assume it's good. Let it go through the complete clearing process before spending the money.