CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Serge Magliore was confused when he opened an envelope with a purported Bank of America cashier’s check for $18,950 — supposedly payment for a car he’d already sold. Plus, there was no return address and the potential buyer was from England but the postmark was from Greece.

“I e-mailed … about the postmark from Greece and he said his assistant recently traveled there and mailed it while there,” said Magliore, a civilian who works for the Navy.

He said more red flags went up when he asked why the individual sent the money when the car already had been sold. The man replied he wanted to buy some stereo equipment Magliore also was selling. He told Magliore to cash the check, keep enough to pay for the stereo equipment, which someone would pick up, and send the remaining funds — more than $7,000 — to Nigeria.

The buyer asked Magliore for his phone number. When he called, Magliore told him he knew it was a scam and to stop contacting him.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent Joe Garcia said Magliore faced a “419” scam, named for the penal code number covering the crime in Nigeria, from where such scams often are run.

They can occur numerous ways, Garcia said: in response to a classified ad, an e-mail from various “officials” seeking help and promising a percentage of funds, and online dating services in which a “model” supposedly is stuck in Nigeria from a photo shoot and needs money to get out.

Magliore had another incident, also arising from a classified ad to sell items before moving from South Korea to Okinawa. In both cases, the “buyers” responded to his e-mail address in the ads he had placed in Stars and Stripes.

In the other attempt, he said, he received 10 $700 International Postal Money Orders purportedly bearing a U.S. Postal Service logo — supposedly to pay for a grand piano he was selling.

Garcia said he’s seen four such scams the past six months but they failed because bank officials caught the fake checks/money orders before they were cashed.

The criminals hope the fake checks are cashed and then free money is sent to them, according to Mary Jones, NCIS supervisory special agent.

Garcia said people can minimize their risk of falling victim to such scams by being wary of:

A buyer paying too much for the item, then asking you to send money back;receiving checks or money orders with no return address;receiving payments in uninsured envelopes.Jones added that a good way to avoid scams is to avoid including your e-mail address in classified ads — as is just thinking logically.

“Like Serge, if you’re selling a car in Korea and somebody wants to buy it in England, but they’re sending a check from Greece and asking you to send money back to Nigeria, you’re probably being scammed,” she said.

A seller in doubt about a deal, Garcia said, should wait to send the merchandise or money until the check clears his bank. Those that feel they may be getting scammed, he said, always can ask NCIS or their bank if the payment is legitimate.

But Garcia said his best advice is: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

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