More and more people are using Craigslist as a source for home rentals, however enterprising scammers are using Craigslist to put phony listings and tricking people into sending money as a security deposit or first month’s rent before they find out that the scammer does not own the home. This was the unfortunate situation that happened recently to Renata Cox who was moving along with her three children to Nashville, Tennessee. She went on Craigslist and found a great deal for a rental in a nice neighborhood. Ms. Cox wired $1,100 to the scammer living in, of all places, Nigeria and finally learned that the home was not owned by the person who took her money at the time she went to move in. Now she is homeless and out $1,100.
The vast majority of the listings on Craigslist are legitimate, but you only have to be cheated by one to feel the pain. When the rent looks too good to be true, you should immediately be skeptical. When the landlord is out of the country and wants you to wire money, you should be even more skeptical and if by out of the country we mean Nigeria, you should really be skeptical. Scammers prefer people to wire money because unlike a check or a credit card payment, it is almost impossible to stop payment or get the money back. If you are considering a place on Craigslist, confirm that the person who says he or she is the owner by going to the tax assessors listings which are available online. If the names don’t match, that is a recipe for disaster. Also, go on line and see if you can find a duplicate listing for the home you find on Craigslist. Often scammers merely copy legitimate listings and change the name. If you find a duplicate listing with a different name, you should avoid doing business with that person.
Later this Fall, Nigerian Emmanuel Ekhator will be going on trial in the Federal District Court for Pennsylvania on charges that he stole more than 32 million dollars from lawyers using a simple, but effective scam against law firms that should know better. The way the scam works is that American law firms are contacted by people claiming they need representation collecting a lawsuit settlement check. The law firms that fall for this scam collect the settlement check in the form of a bank check, deposit the check in their firm’s escrow account, deduct their fee and wire the remainder to the “client.” Many of these scams have been traced to Nigeria and to Nigerians living in Canada as well as Japan and South Korea.
This scam works on the same basis as the mystery shopper scam where the victim receives a counterfeit check, deposits the check into his or her account and then sends some of the money from the check back to the scammer. The key is that a bank will give provisional credit for the check in the account of the victim after just a few days so it will appear that the check has been cleared, however, the check does not officially clear, or in the case of a counterfeit check not clear for a few weeks after which time the provisional credit is rescinded and the victim is left having wired good money of the victim to the scammer. The key to avoiding this scam is to contact the bank issuing the check deposited by phone to make sure that the check is legitimate and that there are funds to cover the check in that account. Further, do not send any funds in such a situation until the check you are given has fully cleared.
Although the country of Nigeria comes to mind when we think about countries from which many scams originate, as I warned you in my “scam of the day” of April 18, 2012, Jamaica has become a hotbed of phony lottery scams. This week the Jamaican Assistant Commmissioner of Police gave a speech in which he indicated that lottery scams have become the most significant contributer to an increased murder rate in the St. James parish of Jamaica. On the same day of Commissioner Williams’ speech, Jamaican police announced the arrest of six Jamaicans for scamming Americans through a telemarketing lottery scam.
You cannot win a contest you have not entered. You don’t have to pay fees to receive winnings in legitimate contests and lotteries. Another common lottery scam is when you are told that they have to collect the income taxes on the prize. This is a scam too. Either the taxes are deduted from your prize or you pay them directly to the IRS. No contest sponsor receives a payment from you for taxes. The Jamaican scam has preyed partiularly on the elderly who should never trust anyone on the telephone telling them that they have won a contest.
Although it may seem as if this scam only began in earnest with the invention of email, in fact, the scam itself is just a variation of a scam that is more than four hundred years old when it was called the Spanish Prisoner Con. At that time a letter was sent to the targeted victim purportedly from someone on behalf of a wealthy aristocrat who was imprisoned in Spain under a false name. The identity of the nobleman was not revealed for security reasons, but the victim was asked to help raise money to obtain the release of the aristocrat, who, it was promised, would reward the money-contributing victim with great sums of money and, in some versions of the con, the Spanish prisoner’s beautiful daughter in marriage.
In the more recent incarnations of this scam, you receive an email in which you are promised great sums of money if you assist a Nigerian in his effort to transfer money out of his country. Other variations include the movement of embezzled funds by corrupt officials, a dying gentleman who wants to make charitable gifts or a minor bank official who is trying to move the money of deceased foreigners out of his bank without the government taking it. Similar scams have managed to keep up with the news by having the money to be moved tied to fallen dictators such as Sadaam Hussein or Moamar Khadaffi.
What all of these scams have in common is that soon after agreeing to help, you learn that money is needed to be sent by you for lawyer fees, bribes, insurance and other costs. The reward is always just around the corner and the fees keep mounting.
There are a number of ways to confirm that the email you are receiving is a scam including a careful review of the email address, however, you do not need to even go that far in your considerations. Although you may want to open the email (so long as you do not click on to any links) for sheer entertainment purposes, all of these scenarios are scams. Just ask yourself, why are you being singled out for this email? You are not. The emails are sent out all over the Internet. Don’t be a victim. Do not respond to the email in any fashion. If you do, you will be hounded.