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The Triangulation Scam

Secondhand goods bought were suspiciously found to be New? The triangulation (mule scam) explained...

Here's a scam which is something to be aware of. (Known as "Triangulation", this is more like strangulation than anything to do with maps). The scam is almost undetectable and has baffled people for a long time. But at last there are some answers here which may help to crack the scam!

The Triangulation Scam (Mule Scam) Explained:

You buy something online from someone, probably on eBay or some other online auction, etc, and you pay the seller. A bit later the goods arrive and everything looks ok. The problem is, a bit later than that, the authorities tell you that you have paid using a stolen credit card!

How can this be? You paid by honest means, so what has happened? The answer is that the person claiming to be the seller has kept the money you sent them and has then bought the goods using a stolen credit card, placing the order at a company whose security was so lacking that they allowed the goods to be delivered to an address other than that of the owner of the card. Also, the goods were marked as "a gift" so the invoice details were omitted from the delivery.

I have seen cases reported online where the buyer thinks they are buying from an individual and yet it turns out that Amazon is the deliverer. The scamster has simply ordered the stuff from Amazon using a stolen credit card and put the named recipient's details as the delivery address. The scammer keeps the buyer's payment and instead pays for the goods using the stolen credit card. When such payment then goes wrong, the scammer has disappeared, leaving the honest buyer looking guilty as sin having apparently paid using a stolen credit card!

What can be done to defeat the Triangulation Scam:

A possible solution is for legitimate companies such as Amazon to always send a verification note with the consignment. This would say something like "Thankyou for your order. We confirm you have paid using credit card with last four digits [nnnn]. If this is not correct please inform us immediately to prevent fraud!", or in the case of the item being marked as "a gift" the note would say something like "This item was ordered and delivered as A GIFT. If this is not so please inform us immediately to prevent fraud". Either way, the recipient can tell if the information they are being asked to verify is correct or not, and can then immediately report the problem if things don't add up to make sense. This is a neat solution because it gets the scam exposed and at the same time doesn't spoil the privacy of people's gift-giving nor credit card details.

It's important for the recipient to check over any items being delivered to make sure the documentation is correct. That's the key to defeating the scam.

It's also worth mentioning that the criminals operating the scam are usually in a desperate rush to get the honest person's payment cashed and the goods ordered from the substitute supplier and delivered in time before anyone notices. As a buyer, you can help to protect yourself against the fraud by avoiding paying by a fast funds transfer method (eg. Western Union), money order, electronic funds transfer, etc, and instead leave the seller to have to take time to cash the cheque. Delays leave the criminals vulnerable in the same kind of way a time-delay lock in a bank leaves bank robbers at an inconvenience.

Small machine tools and appliances are a favourite line of goods for the triangulation scamsters, so if you are ordering something of that type, you are safer to go via actual DIY stores than to buy "unwanted gift" in an online auction.

If goods arrive that are clearly secondhand, then it's less suspicious than in cases of a private sale of "nearly new" goods. One of the notable features of the triangulation scam is that the goods that are delivered are new and yet are supposedly bought from a private seller. The curious anomaly that new goods are being sold as secondhand is a side-effect of the scam.

Of course there are genuine people selling genuine goods online, but they are usually patient enough to wait a while for the payment to clear and for questions to be asked to verify everything is above-board. If not, you have a right to look upon the whole thing with suspicion!

Also see the cheque scam and the 419 scam

Note that various job-spam (see examples of job-spam) are also known as the "mule scam".