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Even a consumer advocate like me can get sucked in.
My wife and I have a condo in Florida (mortgage under water of course) and we have to rent it out to pay the bills.
We also advertise in Europe so it wasn't that unusual when I received an email from someone in Great Britain who saw our ad and wanted to spend a week at our place.
Gabriel Harry wanted to know whether we had a vacancy for the last week in October. He said he was a physician who would be giving a speech in the U.S. and wanted to take a week's vacation in a warm place.
Nothing unusual there; we have had many great guests from the U.K.
When I sent him the price for the week, he agreed, and I asked to be paid by PayPal, as is the norm. He said he could not do that because the hosts of the conference would be paying his expenses while here. He asked for my address to send a certified check.
Again, all seems reasonable, nothing to be suspicious of.
Then I received the tipoff.
His "wife," "Dr. Jennifer," wrote me saying that she just got a message from her husband that the host erroneously will be sending me a check for $3,500.
"Hi, how are you doing over there today?, hope all is fine at your end... I just got a message from my husband that his financiers sent you a check in the amount of $3,500 which they include our traveling flight money and am so sorry for the amount sent to you. Please I will love to know to know if the check is in safe hand? and if I can trust you with the money," she wrote.
This was the first email that had typos and other grammatical issues.
"Regarding the excess funds on the payment, once the check is received and you have it deposited into your bank. Here is what you are to do calculate your own price and the rest funds should be wired to the traveling agent via Western Union or Money Gram Money Transfer as soon as the check is been deposited."
"Please let me know at once if I can trust you to have the excess fund wired to the traveling agent. I'll be expecting your e-mail with a confirmation... Thanks and kind regards. Dr. Jennifer"
No question now, this is a more sophisticated version of the old ripoff: I will send you more money then you asked for, but please send me the difference by Western Union to Canada or England or Spain.
The way the scam works is that these people checked owners on condo-for-rent sites and offered to rent. The idea is that as soon as you deposit the "certified check," which looks like any bank check, the bank will accept it and credit your account.
So you send the $1,500 difference by an untraceable and non-refundable Western Union check. The scammer picks up the Western Union check and is gone is 30 seconds. Good luck finding him or her. Then a couple of days later you get a letter from your bank telling you're the certified check you deposited turned out to be a fake and you are responsible for putting real money back into your account, with a penalty.
During the same time I received an email from a woman who caught on pretty quickly that she was being sucked into a scam on Craig's list. She had been looking for a house or apartment to rent.
You can reach The Watchdog at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.ctwatchdog.com.