Tuesday, January 02, 2007

To Catch a Scammer: Roommate Scam - Part I

I always knew about this scam, but during my recent search for a roommate, it fell in my lap. Not two, but 8 people contacted me with basically the same offer: that they are interested in my room, and will send a check in overpayment for the first month, and that I should send them back the remainder via Western Union. A number of websites warn about this kind of scam, including Scam Victims United forums, Credit Suit, Craig's List, blogs like Pradeep U.K.'s, and DigsBoards postings. You are advised to report any such activities to the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP.
Here's the plot of the scam, courtesy of roommates.com:

Fraud Warning:
It has come to our attention that a scam is being perpetrated on many rental websites, most commonly directed towards those with a room available for rent. The scammers are typically foreign (many state they are from Nigeria or the UK). They will send an overpayment for a rent deposit in the form of a cashier's check. The scammer will then ask for a partial refund (their overpayment minus the deposit). After the money has been refunded, the victim finds that the cashier's check was counterfeit.
Victims have lost thousands of dollars as a result of this scam. Please be cautious when receiving deposits. If someone writes you a check and later asks for a refund, call your bank to make sure the funds are securely in your account before returning payment.

Being the weird guy I am, I decided I'd play along and see how it unfolds. In the process however, I provided enough clues that I was aware of the scam to see how many would drop out. At this writing, only 2 remain. I sent the same message to everyone, but will post messages from any of them to demonstrate the progress of how it happens - the key milestones to watch out for.
And for the record, I was NOT scammed; only thing I may have lost is time and a couple of dollars (to scan the check). Well, maybe time on hold alerting my bank, and a few minutes when this person tried to call me by 'IP voice relay services' ....
In all my emails, I always included a link to this blog, so one of those guys will certainly read this story. I hope he laughs about it as much as I am! This is the oldest wire fraud scheme on the books, but amazingly people fall for it all the time ... it churns my guts.

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