From Nigeria to Carson: The anatomy of an Internet scam
September 17, 2007
Four words: Stay away from Nigeria.
This is the warning issued by both officials from the Nevada Attorney General’s Office and the Carson City Sheriff’s Department.
No, it’s not a travel advisory.
“I can’t tell you how many people have come in with e-mails saying they won the Nigerian lottery or something,” said Sheriff’s deputy Mike Shewbert. “And it’s like c’mon. But, for some people going online for the first time we have to explain to them they want your money.
“If there’s any wording that says ‘Nigeria’ I just tell them to shred it.”
Likewise, said Ernest Figueroa, senior deputy attorney general.
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“Yeah, we get (reports) of the ones from Nigeria all the time,” he said. “Best to just ignore those.”
The ubiquitous Internet scam may be old hat to some Northern Nevada residents, who’ve long since learned to follow their grandfathers’ advice and never give money to strangers. But as the pioneers of the scam continue to grow more sophisticated, the general public also needs to “ratchet up their awareness” Figueroa said.
“This has been going on for years,” said John McGlamery, senior deputy attorney general and public information officer. “The big problem is if you get sucked in, the money’s going overseas.
“The only way we can handle it is to tell people never wire money or send money to people you don’t know. If you think it’s on the level but it’s a cashier’s check more than the amount – wait till the bank tells you it’s clear.”
The conundrum for many is that they’re using the Internet transactions to save time and doing so because they need the money fast – not in the three weeks’ time it takes for most banks to clear checks.
Such is the case with Carson resident Cindy Rogers, who had an Internet scam close call last week.
Rogers and her husband, Montana, posted their car for sale on craigslist.com – a free online classified and want-ad community based in San Francisco. The car, a 1995 Oldsmobile Alero with 100,000-plus miles was posted as a “good car, but a mechanic’s special.”
“We were surprised to get a response right away, but we figured we’d gotten lucky,” Rogers said. “The e-mail said ‘take the car off the list – I’m going to buy it.'”
Rogers said after a few e-mails back and forth, the person agreed to pay full price, plus send a check for extra money – to cover shipping.
Red flag No. 1
“In all these scams they always promise more money than you’re asking,” McGlamery said. “The check will always be worth more than the car is worth.”
Rogers noted when the check came to her door, overnighted by UPS, it didn’t quite match up with who the person said they were – “even though it was a real check.”
“The check was from a church account,” she said. “I’m sure it was to make it look like it was on the up and up and honest.”
Red flag No. 2.
“Most times the check is going to look like it comes from some business – often unrelated. It’s important you look at it and ask yourself if everything adds up,” McGlamery said.
When Rogers took the check to the bank for deposit, they said it would take at least three weeks.
“We didn’t have that kind of time,” she said. “So we took it to the Money Tree. Once the cashier saw what it was and asked us a couple questions – it became apparent what was going on.”
Red flag No. 3
“We try to get the information out to banks that there are scams to look for,” McGlamery said. “A smart teller can detect if something’s awry. But that doesn’t always mean they’re going to catch it.
“The best advice is to protect yourself.”
Had the Rogers family cashed the check, they would have been liable for the full amount, sheriff and attorney general officials said.
The Rogerses, who posted the original craigslist ad on Sept. 4, agreed to terms on Sept. 8, received the check on Sept. 12 and took the check in to be cashed on Sept. 13, all that was lost was time – but for others, the story’s end isn’t a good one.
“We get lots of calls from people who say they’ve been scammed, and almost every time it’s the same story,” said deputy Shewbert. “Once the money leaves, there’s dang little we can do.”
As far as recourse goes from local or even statewide agencies, the answer is the same.
“We get reports of Internet fraud all the time and we don’t turn anyone away,” McGlamery said. “Even if it’s happened, stay active. Call us. Call the consumer affairs division. We’ve done several alerts on it over the years, and that’s basically all we can do – but we’re happy to take calls.”
Whether it be a windfall or a buyer coming from afar, the best course to take, perhaps, is to use the Internet to deal locally, Rogers said.
“My husband was suspicious the entire time,” she said. “I was thankful that we weren’t able to cash the check. People who do this are kind of sad and sick to me – we would’ve cashed the check and given the people cash.
“The car’s still for sale. This time, hopefully we can meet the buyer face to face.”
• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at email@example.com or 881-1219.
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