Since the COVID-19 lockdown began, I have personally received four emails which begin with the same question.
They are all money laundering scams.
The emails start pretty normally. The person says that they have a need for your service, and then immediately asks if you accept credit cards. If you reply, which most people would because it's potential business, the scam begins.
The first stage is to set three conditions in motion.
1. They say that you can only contact them by email. Usually the reason is they are either in hospital now because of COVID-19, or they are traveling a lot, or, in early versions of the scam, they are deaf.
2. They introduce the concept of a third-party personâ€”such as a contractor, designer, architect, or other personâ€”who is crucial to the supposed project.
3. They outline some very expensive project specs, which they know would cost between $5,000 and $10,000.
If you reply with a price estimate, they move to the second stage.
Their next email will say that they accept the price, and will pay you a deposit (usually half your
They will tell you that their third-party person needs to be paid upfront for the project, but that they do not take credit cards. The scammer explains that, being in hospital, he doesn't have access to checks or anything, so if they overpay you by say $10,000, would you forward that to the third-party person as a direct wire. They stress how important it is that this happen quickly, to preserve the project's timeline.
If you accept, they give you freshly stolen credit card info, which is unlikely to be discovered for a few days. You then process the payment, and immediately wire the $10,000 to the third-party's account.
A few days later, the card is flagged as stolen and the transaction is stopped. This means that you are now out $10,000, and may possibly come under investigation for money laundering.
If you receive emails which immediately ask about credit cards, you should always treat them as suspicious. If you do reply, look for the sequence I have outlined above. You should never wire money anywhere until you are certain that the original transaction has gone through.
Terry Young is the founder and CEO of Internet Marketing and Design. Since 1997,
his computer programming and graphic design knowledge have kept his company
at the forefront of the latest technology in web development.