Beware of scammers when selling goods online

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

LeapFrog Enterprises says its Leapster Learning Game System is intended for children ages 4 to 10. In this case, it helped to educate a 32-year-old single mom. The lesson: Be careful when you do business on the Internet.

The mom, Sheila Harvey of Westerville, said she simply wanted to get some much-needed cash for a Leapster that her 6-year-old daughter, Ashley, no longer played with. Harvey posted the handheld gaming system on, a free online classified listing. Her asking price: $100. She ended up losing far more than that. "I feel completely stupid -- I mean, lesson learned."

The trouble began when Harvey received a quick response to her posting, an e-mail message from a man who identified himself as a resident of London, England. He indicated that he wanted to buy the Leapster,

leaving Harvey thrilled that the transaction could be completed with so little hassle. A few days later, two money orders arrived, each for $932. The would-be buyer soon followed up with another e-mail message. He told Harvey that his assistant had inadvertently overpaid for the gaming device. He said he was terribly sorry for the mistake -- so much so that he wanted Harvey to keep $200, twice the agreed-upon price for the Leapster. He

suggested that she deposit the money orders, keep the $200 and then wire the remainder back to him.

"I wanted to do the right thing," Harvey said. "I thought, 'These money orders got sent to me, and this isn't my money.' " After fulfilling the man's request, Harvey learned that it was, in fact, her money. "Once the cash had

been taken out and the money had cleared, she found out (the money orders) were counterfeit," said Westerville police detective Larry French.

Harvey's bank demanded $1,729, the amount she wired overseas plus the applicable transfer fees. She was obligated to pay, French said. When cashing a money order, a bank customer -- not the bank -- is ultimately

responsible for the funds the money order supposedly represents. "It seems we've seen a rise in these types of scam cases," French said. "It could be due to the economy."

You can lessen your exposure, he said. If you find yourself questioning whether an e-mail address is legitimate, plug it into a search engine such as Google, the investigator said. Sometimes, a notice will appear if the

address has been flagged for removal. That approach is hardly foolproof, though, so the best way to protect yourself, French said, is to deal only in cash -- and only with people you trust.

That's what Harvey intends to do from now on. And she hopes she'll soon have an opportunity to put her newfound knowledge to the test. The Leapster is still for sale. "I need to sell it," she said. "Like everyone else in

this economy, money is really tight."

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