Craigslist scam takes advantage of Western Michigan University student

Scammers used variation of the Nigerian money scam

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WXYZ) - Craigslist is a cheap and easy way to sell and advertise products and services. But its also an increasingly easy way to get ripped off.

Google the phrase Craigslist Scam" and you'll get about 28 million hits.

For me, one of those scams hit close to home when my daughter, Sophie decided to sub-let her room in a house in Kalamazoo. She did what thousands of people do every day and put an ad on Craigslist.

"The first response came in less than 24 hours," Sophie recounts.  "From a woman coming from Berlin, Germany and was showing very much an interest in the room.  So I replied back to her."

She said her name was Mary Forest and in an exchange of forty emails over several weeks she revealed personal details about herself. 

"I'm 24-years-old. My laugh is soft and contagious," she wrote in an effort to build up Sophie's trust.

Then after about three weeks "Mary Forest" sent a check for $2,300 issued by the Cartus Corporation, an international relocation company. She emailed instructions for Sophie to bank the check, withhold $265 for the first months rent, then use the balance, just over $2,000 to send a Walmart Moneygram to an address in Florida.

It was that instruction that should send warning bells, says retired FBI agent Jeff Lanza, who warns that Sophie was caught in a variation of the old Nigerian money scam.

"In the case of the Nigerian scam that check is always returned to the bank 'not paid' then the bank will debit your money the original amount. So you have to pay the money back to the bank that came out of that fraudulent check."

In Sophie's case, a call to Jon Wyatt of the Cartus Corporation confirmed what Lanza had warned.

"Short story, that check is bogus." Wyatt said in a returned phone message.  "There's no one in our organization that issued that check."

Sophie bailed out of the deal having lost some time, but no money.

Thousands of others aren't so luck.  Craigslist is aware that people use their service for scams and have a list of warnings, including: " NEVER WIRE FUNDS VIA WESTERN UNION, MONEYGRAM or any other wire service - anyone who asks you to do so is likely a scammer."

Jeff Lanza also lists the warning signs of the Nigerian scam on his website

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