FBI: Watervliet couple scammed out of $4,150 victim of the overpayment scam

The Whites are victims. The Whites aren’t alone.

13Investigates continues its series on an elaborate scam that left one Watervliet couple in debt. The FBI explain how much legwork a scammer does before reaching out to a person and targeting their vulnerabilities.

Rebecca and William White own a small painting business and were scammed by a supposed customer looking to have work done on his new home in Albany, they said.

Before the first coat of paint was even rolled on a wall, the Whites realized they’d been duped and given a fraudulent check for $4,150.

Even the FBI said these scammers will stop at nothing to get your money. The FBI and other agencies call this the overpayment scam. It’s not very common, but the latest numbers from 2022 show there were still over 6,000 victims who lost over $38 million total.

This year, the Whites fell victim.

That one bogus check is just a very small part of what 13Investigates found out is a web of a scam.

“The Whites are victims. The Whites aren’t alone,” Brian Jacob, a supervisory special agent with the FBI, said.

Jacob said scammers do an extensive amount of legwork to pull off their schemes. That includes using personal information from random people.

In this scam, Rebecca said she called the number on the FedEx envelope the fraudulent check came in.

“He said, ‘Let me guess? You got a package with my phone number on it. I said, ‘Yes I did.’ and he said, ‘So did you and everybody else in the United States.'”

The man on the other end of the line is 75 years old and from Georgia. 13Investigates decided to call him.

The man wants to remain anonymous because he said he is scared the scammer will find him.

Although he’s not a part of the scam, he did tell 13Investigates in the last three to four months he’s received at least 50 to 75 calls from people wondering if he sent them a check.

He said he tells each person he doesn’t really know what’s going on other than they’re being scammed.

Those calls come anywhere from California to Massachusetts, and Rebecca was one of those callers.

“I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ he said, ‘I’m 75. I live on Social Security and I’m about to change my phone number because I’m getting multiple calls from all over the United States that are getting my phone number,” Rebecca told 13Investigates.

The Georgia man is not alone.

Frostbank and St. James the Apostle Catholic School, both in Texas, Kato Engineering in Minnesota, and FedEx: these are some businesses that were unwittingly a part of this scam.

Scammers try to build trust before stealing money, said Jacob.

“They utilize a combination of factors. They’re trying to identify what makes you a better victim. What makes you vulnerable to them? They’re going to ask a lot of questions. They’re going to social engineer you. They’re going to try to find out about what you do for work, what your hobbies are – whether that’s through social media, whether that’s through a conversation. Whatever the venue is, they are trying to build your trust and confidence so that you will more willingly give up your money,” he said.

This is when the red flag hit for the White family of Watervliet. There were a lot of questions that 13Investigates worked to answer.

13Investigates looked at the return address on the FedEx envelope the check came in. It said Kato Engineering in Minnesota.

The company name and the address matched up. When 13Investigates called, a person on the line told NewsChannel 13’s Tessa Bentulan they’d received several calls about checks they supposedly mailed but have no recollection of doing so.

On the check itself, St. James the Apostle Catholic School was listed. The school is in San Antonio, Texas.

The Archdiocese of San Antonio said they have no official comment other than to say they are in no way involved with this scam or the scammer.

Frostbank said they have no comment and will not confirm or deny if they’re investigating.

13Investigates emailed FedEx to see if they could help me track down where the package came from.

FedEx replied, “We cannot share any customer information. Any further questions should be directed to law enforcement.”

Scammers do a ton of legwork to make scams look legitimate, said Jacob.

“These scammers are typically part of larger organizations. This isn’t just one person sitting at their kitchen table establishing this backstopping. These scammers are part of a group, and the group can create these personas, and they can create this backstopping to make this scam appear legitimate,” Jacob said.

The White family is a victim of what’s commonly known as the overpayment scam.

In these types of scams, Jacob said someone would overpay you for the service or merchandise, and then ask for some of that money back. 

Requesting you send the money through a mobile payment app, like Venmo or PayPal.

In this case, the Whites got a message from a potential customer saying he’ll pay them to paint his new home in Albany. He sent the Whites a check for $4,150 and requested $2,000 of it be sent through Venmo. Even though the check was counterfeit, it got past a bank teller.

In the meantime, the scammer sent the Whites another check. This time for $4,300. The Whites said they would not cash that check. NewsChannel 13 showed that check to Broadview’s fraud team, and a nationally known check fraud expert. Both experts said the check looked legitimate, but there was one dead giveaway on the check.

13Investigates will explain what that is on Thursday, starting Live at 4 and on WNYT.com.