18 Nov 2019

Auckland cheque scam targets car sellers via Facebook account

10:50 am on 18 November 2019

An Auckland man believes banks need to do a lot more to stop people falling for ATM cheque deposit scams.

Generic money.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

A man contacted North Shore man Allen Xu via Facebook after he advertised online to sell his uncle's car in October.

Mr Xu said the man came to view the car, checked it over briefly, and agreed to pay the $7500.

He said the buyer phoned someone who he said was his wife to deposit the money.

After checking his ASB account online and seeing incoming funds, Mr Xu let the man drive off and transferred the ownership online.

"On the second day the amount was cancelled, so I had to ask the bank and report to the police. The other thing is I can't contact that guy any more. When I called his number, my number was blocked," he said.

Mr Xu said the bank told him the money showing up in his account earlier was paid with a cheque deposit, and when the bank was clearing the cheque, it turned out to be from a defunct bank, and there was no signature.

"The guy put the cheque to deposit in an ATM machine. That's a stolen cheque which belongs to the National Bank. That's all I know now ... [The bank] is still doing the investigation. I'm still waiting for the results."

He believed the bank was liable because the cheque was taken by them.

Bank statements of Roger Han and Allen Xu who were scammed in the same way by the same person

Left, Roger's surname is Han, but shows up as Wang because Roger did not give the scammer his real name at first. Right, Allen's car was meant to be sold for $7500 in two payments of $750 and $6750, but the transaction was cancelled. Photo: Supplied

However, ASB in a statement said people should check whether the funds showed as "available" before releasing items for sale.

Besides Mr Xu, another Auckland man Roger Han, also didn't pay attention to that. He has lost his car to the same scam three days earlier.

"I didn't check whether funds were available ... I just saw I've got incoming funds and I gave him the car," he said.

Mr Han said he reported his case to the police before Mr Xu was scammed and was questioning why another scam was not prevented.

"It's the same mobile number, same driver licence number, same driver's name. It's the same Facebook account that contacted me and Allen. I've got photos of the driver licence and also the cheque he used. I've provided all of these to the police," he said.

Banking ombudsman Nicola Sladden said with the declining use of cheques, people may not know that cheques needed to be cleared before the money was there.

She said her office could investigate when things went wrong.

"We would firstly check whether the cheque has been processed properly. We would also consider most importantly, whether or not the bank had provided adequate information to the customer about the nature of the transaction and the availability of the fund," Mr Sladden said.

She said there were more complaints of scams in recent years and scams continued to evolve as technology and consumer habits changed.

"We would encourage anyone affected by such a scam to not only contact the police, but also follow up with the bank, and if they're unable to resolve it, the banking ombudsman scheme is here to provide a free and independent resolution service."

Mr Xu and Mr Han both said they were unfamiliar with cheques, and it was not made clear to them that it was a cheque deposit.

ASB said the customer would have no liability if they had not contributed to the loss.

"We sympathise with the customer who has been the victim of a scammer. Unfortunately, their story is a good reminder that fraudsters are ever-present. While the number of fraudulent deposit incidents remain low it is important to always ensure funds are cleared prior to releasing any goods."

A police spokesperson said they were treating Mr Xu and Mr Han's vehicles as stolen.

"Where possible vendors should avoid accepting payment by cheque, instead they should insist on payments being made in cash or electronic transfer," the spokesperson said.

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