There was a company called Dropbox and once they held a competition called Big Haxe: The Ultimate Stanford vs Berkeley AI battle! There was team of four… They fought with valour, with the only aim: to dethrone the evil Lord Tetris! That team, led by Arijit the first, of house Banerjee and bolstered by the clever strategies of Pararth, the king of Shahs, almost won the battle. And thus it happened that they came to be in possession of “Xbox: the one” — four of its kind. Red-hot from the forges of Redmond, those were powerful gadgets indeed. But one of the team members, Sujeet, had something much sinister in his mind: to sell the one xbox!
So yeah, as I was telling, I am not into gaming and all that. That’s why I wanted to sell my xbox and use that money to buy a camera instead. I listed my xbox online on a website called SUpost, where Stanford students buy and sell stuff. Next day I got a mail from a guy saying he wants to buy it. He told he will be sending in a check which will include the xbox price and extra amount so that his friend here at Stanford would be able to ship it to him. “Check?” I should have asked.
I should have suspected something wrong. But no. I so desperately wanted to sell my xbox that the thought never occurred to me. I was just stupid. And dumb. (This is going to be a repeating theme. Let’s just call it “yadda yadda”)
When I got the check, I was shocked. The xbox costs $500, the check was for $1800. I should have suspected something wrong… yadda yadda. I asked him about it and he said that his friend is going to get some other electronics also. I should just take the 500 and give the remaining money to his friend along with the xbox. Sounded okay-ish. I deposited the check. Next day, I checked my bank balance, the money was there. He emailed me saying “I see that money’s been transferred from my account. There’s some problem with my friend, he can not collect the money. Just send the remaining money by Western Union to Benin” (he gave me an address in Benin.)
“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!! What’s this shady business!” I thought. The crucial thing was, I thought, the money’s already in my account. After all, my online bank balance showed so… Hey, see, cut me some slack, okay! I am stupid, dumb and all that; but once I put the fact “money’s in my account” into the list of unquestionable axioms, my mind went wild spinning all kinds of stories. “This must be some money laundering scheme. Someone’s making shitload of illegal money, and they want to transfer it to a faraway country. Now, they can’t just transfer directly, right? I mean, what with all their accounts being monitored and all… So, they must be doing some ‘distributed innocuous money transfers’. Get tons of guys like me to transfer a thousand bucks each and them feds won’t have a clue!”
I was worried what I’ve gotten myself into. “What if this is some blood money? Drug money? (Breaking Bad effect)”. I told the guy that I can not transfer overseas. I went to my bank to check whether there’s a way of ‘reverting’ a check. I didn’t want anything to do with that money. I just wanted to get rid of it. Of course, you can not revert a check! The guy, in the meanwhile, gave me details of an US bank account.
I was a bit busy that week and could not transfer money quickly. One day I got a call from an ‘unknown’ number. (The number won’t show up). It was this guy! He was getting anxious. “Could you please transfer that money soon?” he was asking. I could not. So, he called again. He must have gotten super desperate and in that desperation, he forgot to ‘unknown’-fy his number. I saw that the call was from Nigeria! At least now, I should have realized what kind of scam I was being a victim of. I know about Nigerian scams and how they fool people. But remember that I thought money’s already in my account?
Remember I had just finished watching Breaking Bad? Oh boy was I stupid! … yadda yadda. I got super-psyched “OMG! OMG!! This guy must be some African drug lord!” “Now he has my phone number. He knows my address. What if I wake up tomorrow, a knock on the door, some dude with a knife standing outside asking me for money?” “These drug people are very dangerous. Better not have anything to do with their money.”
I picked up the call. “So, where are you right now?” I asked. “In Paris” came the answer. I was debating whether to make him aware that I was aware where he was calling from. Remember, I was thinking of him as some African drug lord and not a powerless Nigerian scammer? “I better not call out his lie, otherwise he will do something nasty” thought I. “Yeah, I will transfer your money soon. Also, I don’t want to ship my xbox or anything, so, I will just return all your money.” I didn’t want anything to do with drug-money, you know…
I added that account as a beneficiary to my bank account. It takes a day to get activated. Next day I got a mail from Bank Of America’s fraud detection system. “Oh! They know that account is shady! Now what do I do? If I transfer money, my hands would be dirty forever. Part of a money laundering scheme… What if they deport me?” I was scared. Dirty money in my account. No way of getting rid of it. “What if they catch me? I don’t want to be a criminal.”
My friends convinced me that I should go to police. Mind you, even they thought this is some shady money!
I went to Stanford police. I narrated the whole story to the officer. “Officer, really, I don’t have anything to do with black money. I just wanted to sell my xbox. I am so sorry I deposited that check. I will okay, right? I don’t want any criminal record! They have my phone and address now. I am scared. Are they really drug people?” I was not getting why he was having trouble controlling his laughter!
Finally, he gave me a glass of water to drink. “Don’t worry” he said as soothingly as he could manage with all the urge to burst out laughing. “Do you know how checks work?” “Yeah, you go to bank, give them the check, they deposit, money comes into account the next day.” “Correct, except the ‘next day’ part. The amount your account shows the next day is just an indication. The check takes about two weeks to clear, and only then will you actually have money in your account. Also, read up on Nigerian scammers. They aren’t ‘drug lords’! Don’t do anything for next fifteen days. The check will bounce. ‘The black money’ will vanish. Have a nice day.”
Hmm… so that’s how checks work…