BBB Alert: Nebraska woman loses thousands in Craigslist scheme

March 26, 2013

With the growing amount of trust in person-to-person marketplaces like Craigslist, consumers have become increasingly comfortable with online transactions.” Today, people are looking for almost anything online. Whether it’s finding a roommate, a vacation home, a life partner or a rental apartment, the “Craigslist culture” offers no-cost or low-cost services that are quick and convenient,” stated BBB President and CEO Jim Hegarty.

BBB warns that convenience can sometimes come at an unexpectedly high price, particularly for those who turn to free classified sites like Craigslist for real-estate-related transactions. Despite the media spotlight on the dangers of Craigslist in recent years, it appears that online scammers are still out in full force, preying on unsuspecting consumers.

An Omaha woman recently reported to the BBB that she was looking for a roommate. She read a profile on Craigslist about a person whose name was “AnnMarie” who supposedly lived in Canada and wanted to re-locate to Omaha. After numerous emails and text messages, written in broken English, trying to convince the renter that she would be a reliable tenant, the consumer finally agreed to have “AnnMarie” move in without meeting her in person.

The next message from “AnnMarie” stated that she would be sending money in advance to pay for her moving expenses and rent. The consumer received three separate money orders totaling $2,796 which she deposited in her personal bank account. On March 13th, she was instructed to send $1,650 by MoneyGram to a man in San Diego, CA who was the “mover” but would not drive any farther until he received payment immediately. So she wired the money and also paid an additional $115 in processing fees.

After the first payment was sent, the consumer was contacted again and instructed to wire an additional $720 because the truck driver had miscalculated his expenses. After sending the money and paying another processing fee, the consumer called the phone number with an Idaho area code given to her by “AnnMarie” because she was getting nervous about the transactions. A male voice-mail message stated that the phone was only for text messages and would not accept phone calls.

On March 18th, the consumer’s bank informed her that the money orders she had deposited were fakes, and she would be responsible for paying the bank back for the funds she had wired to San Diego. That is when she realized that she was caught in a scam and texted “AnnMarie” to ask how she could take money from someone who is hard working. The reply back was, “That’s what I do for a living.” The scammer continued to taunt her texting, “If you want, I can send part of the money to you…$1,000.” Then wrote, “Just kidding.”

Hegarty stated, “This is a vicious crime that was perpetrated on a poor, naïve woman. The scammer not only robbed her but humiliated her. She doesn’t know how she can pay back the bank and told the BBB, “I’m desperately struggling and scared. I will never ever make such a mistake ever again in my entire life’.”

The Bureau cautions consumers that roommate scams can appear two ways. One is through ads posted online from an individual wanting to move to the area and the other would be a response to a legitimate ad from someone looking for a roommate. Any correspondence that discusses advanced payments, the request that funds be wired transferred or the use of pre-paid debit cards, such as the Green Dot card, are huge red flags.

Hegarty also stated that individuals using classifieds to look for rental property should be cautious. “The same individuals that operate the roommate scam will hijack legitimate home sale listings and modify them into fake rental ads on Craigslist or other classified services. The addresses and facts about the homes are correct but the houses aren’t for rent. The scammers claim to be out of the country and try to convince prospective renters to send a security deposit or first month’s rent — or both — to secure the rental. The properties are often offered at almost too good to be true prices as a way of luring consumers into the trap.

The BBB suggests some advice so you will not to fall victim to this kind of scam:

  • This type of scammer usually resides offshore. Read emails carefully, if there are significant spelling and grammatical mistakes, it’s most likely from abroad and most likely a scam.
  • Discontinue any communication with an individual that is asking you to wire transfer funds or send funds to them or anyone else.
If you suspect that you have been contacted by someone that may be a scammer contact the BBB for guidance. 800-649-6814.