As you may have read in my previous Blog, the Nigerian 419 scam has invaded our very own realty market here in Washington State. This is a fairly sophisticated scam that many people have fallen for and lost thousands in the process. Any clients you may have that are intending to buy property for the purpose of renting it out needs to be aware of this situation.
One popular free advertising source known as Craiglist.com is a steady source of victims for the scam artist operating out of Nigeria and the UK. However, it's not uncommon for listings on the MLS to receive such offers as well. There are three groups involved in perpetrating the scam. The first bunch are known as the Yahoo Boys, and they are the ones that scour the web for email address regarding rental properties. They send out emails by the thousands in the hope a few will respond.
Once someone has they may pass it on to another scammer that's experienced in the art of reeling the victim in (2nd level). All of this activity is watched over by the ring leaders (3rd level) that actually monitor all of the email accounts to insure the "worker bees" are performing correctly, and if it appears one is dropping the ball they will pull him out and bring in another more experienced player. The ringleaders collect the funds and actually pay commissions down the line to the boys that reeled them in. Many of the Yahoo Boys are college students and are given computers and promises of big money to participate; they view it as a job. It's not any different from Americas own drug dealers luring kids in to selling drugs for them. A great deal of this type of activity takes place in internet cafés, but often the kids are provided laptops and internet connections to work from home.
I recently ran an ad on craigslist.com to see if they were still working it. Craigslist has posted many warnings against responding to such solicitations and I was curious if the scammers had moved on to more fertile ground. They have not; I received 16 such inquiries in one day to a simple ad offering a room for rent in Bellevue. I used a fictitious identity and a newly created email address. I'll use the emails from just one of them as an example. This particular scammer managed to have a check on my doorstep by the next day!
This is a common type of email sent in search of victims and is sent to dozens of people at a time (they are often poorly written):
First response to my ad:
Once someone has responded and expresses interest in renting to the scammer, they will receive this (already calling themselves your roommate), the "private email address" is actually the pass-off to the more experienced con artist.
After a bit of small talk you will receive this email:
(Name): TIMOTHY MONTOYA
I will be expecting the following info from you as soon as you send the funds, I am aware that the Western Union Agent will charge you for sending fee, please use out of the funds to pay the tranfer fee, I will need the info as follows:
Then the sense of urgency begins and often you will receive several emails in rapid succession:
How are you doing, I just got your message, please make sure the funds are wired today, Saturday is my flight, I want to be able to schedule a flight tomorrow, did you get my traveling agent's info?
Thanks, looking forward to meet you.
How are you doing, did you get the payment yet, I tracked it and it has been delivered at the front door of your room, so please I will need your swift response ok, I cant wait to meet you, will you be able to pick me up at the airport?
Thanks, will be waiting for the Western Union Details.
Because I like to see how they deal different objections I send various responses, this is one I used:
Me: Yes, it was there when I got home from school today but it was too late to go to the bank. I talked to my mom today cause I was real excited about you coming here, and she thinks it's a great thing. She did suggest though that I wait until the check clears with the bank before sending any funds to you. I'll have to ask the bank how many days it takes to clear completely, hope that's not a problem luv. I'm really excited about your coming here and I know we're going to be the best of friends!
Scammer: Hello Misha, How are you doing, I am really excited at the thought of meeting you, I can see that you are nice and honest, I am the same kind of person, I cant wait to meet you, please the bank might want to put 2-3days on it, I wont be able to wait for that long.
I am asking you, if there is anything we can do so I can get my flight, or if there is a way you can borrow money for me and as soon as it clears, we will replace it back. Can we exchange pictures?
Me: I maybe could borrow some money from my student loan account, but that's about all the money that's in it. If for some reason I couldn't pay it back I wouldn't be able to pay for next semester and I would not be able to attend classes. My mom would just kill me! What's your flight number and departure time?
Scammer: Hello Misha, I really appreciate what you are doing to me, I promise to be the best fried you ever have, please, maybe we shouldnt tell your mom about it, so when the check clears, we can return it back, my flight is Saturday 6pm, I will need to pay my traveling agent before I can get a confirmation for my flight. ok.
Please, I will appreciate it if you can wire the money to my traveling agent today or early tomorrow, It is certain we will replace it back ok. Thanks. Looking forward to meet you
Me: I do feel like I've known you all my life, and I'm certain I can trust you. Maybe when I go to the bank I should just explain the urgency of the situation and they can call the bank that issued the check to confirm it's good. I'll bet that would solve our problem! What do you think? I hate to lie to my poor mother, she's been really sick with cancer and all and she doesn't feel good. Wouldn't it be better to just ask the bank to help us out?
Scammer: Hello Misha, I understand, I wouldn't want you to lie as well, there is nothing the bank can do because it is a policy they must follow, let just see how many days they will ask use to wait then. Thanks, looking forward to meet you.
(After this email, a more experienced scammer came in. This one was dropping the ball)
Me: Gee thanks, that's a good idea. I knew you would be understanding of the situation. I actually forgot where you're flying from! I see your travel agent is here in the US, did you used to live in that State? I'm still so excited knowing your coming so soon, the weathers still pretty nice so we can spend a little time going downtown and eating at all the beautiful restaurants. What's your favorite kinda food Helen!
Scammer: Hello Misha, How are you doing, I am exicted about meeting you as well, yes I use to live in Harrisburg, PA and Wi but thats a long time, I am originally from PA. I like lights food, yes we could go out and have a nice time.
Me: Where are you now, are you in England? I've always wanted to go there! What do you do for work?? I want to be a Hotel Manager, or maybe work on one of those big cruise ships after I graduate. Did you go to college in Harrisburg? You mentioned earlier we could exchange pictures; I don't remember if I ever sent you any or not, so I'll go ahead and attach a few for you now.
Scammer: How are you doing? I just got your email, I want to know if i can borrow some little funds from you, any amount you have, I will appreciate it. I WANT T RAISE SOME MONEY TO BUY MY FLIGHT BEFORE THE CHECK CLEARS, the days the bank asked you to come seems like a year to me, I will be waiting for your swift response.
Me: How much do you need to borrow sweety? I don't think it will be a big problem. Can you possibly send me a scan of your photo identification, like a driver's license, or school ID? Then I at least know exactly who I'm making the loan too.
Scammer: Hello Misha, how are you doing? I just got your email, I cant believe you are asking me for these just because I ask you to borrow me some money, I dont have a scanner to scan what you have asked me to send to you.
But, I want you to know that I am an honest person, I cant borrow what I will not pay for, it is very urgent thats the reason why I turned to you for assistance, we are now friends, I can assist you if you want me to as well.....
Please there is no way I can send all this, since I dont have a scanner, I want to believe you trust me right? Please........
Me: Well, shoot, don't they have places that can scan for you? Oh, wait, I know. Maybe you can just take a picture of it and send that! I would at least like pictures of you or something, I know we're friends and all but I've never even seen you. Plus, you didn't say how much you want me to loan you. I only have about $5,000 in my college loan account that I'm supposed to use for school next semester, if I sent you that I would really need to be sure your going to pay me. If I lose my college money I can't return to school for half a year, and my mothers so sick with cancer I know it would just kill her if I wasn't in school.
Scammer: Hello Misha, I just got your email and I believe you, I wouldnt want you to risk anything for your college ok, I will have to wait till the check clears then, I just hope it wont tkae more than 3day, but what I was acutally going to borrow from is $1000 and not $5000, I was just thinking I could be in the State by this new week, so we can visit alot of places together, I am really excited about meeting you.
and I know you will make a good friend. I wish you could borrow just the $1000 before noon tomorrow, I would appreciate it, that means I will still be able to fly later in the evening on Saturday.
How is your parents doing, I hope she is using her treatment, where di she travel to? would you like to visit the UK in your holidays? we cna go together and stay in my house here in London.
Thanks, will be waiting for your email.
Me: So sorry I just got your message Helen, I went to my best friend's birthday party (see pic) and we had such a good time. I really wish you could have been there. As for your question, $1,000 doesn't seem so bad; it is a lot of money to me so please realize that even losing that amount would dramatically affect my life.
Scammer: Hi Misha, How are you doing, I just got your email, yes I realized that alot of things is at stake if you have to borrow me the money, I promise to give you back if anything happens to the check ok, but I bet you nothing is going to happen, because this is my pay check, and no one will want to send me a bad payment, but I promise to give you back the funds if anything happens ok..... trust me on this.
(As you can see, the scammer is finding humor in ripping her off when he say's "I promise to pay you back in a very big way!")
Me: How much of my school money should I send? What do you need for your trip? I've seen those pics before, is that all you have?
How are you doing today, sorry I have not been online for sometime now, I have been busy putting my things in place for my trip. I would have appreciate $1500, but I am not sure you would be able to do that? if it is possible help me with $1500, and if you think $1000 is ok, then try and send it to me very early Monday morning ok.
Please, it is Monday here and the time is 4:56am, I will be coming back to check my email for the Western Union Details ok.
(Name): TIMOTHY MONTOYA
(City) Port Washington
I will be expecting the following info from you as soon as you send the funds, I am aware that the Western Union Agent will charge you for sending fee, please use out of the funds to pay the transfer fee, I will need the info as follows:
I am looking forward to meet you Misha, I cant wait for us to paint the city with beautiful colors together.
Me: Thank for all your patience, I spoke with the bank and they said the money was available for withdrawal so I've sent $2,515.00 early this morning. The MCN number they gave me was 289-609-5468. Take care and be sure to get back to me with your flight information!
Now obviously I sent no money and the number is fictitious; often I'll send them to the WU several times attempting to collect, and sometimes I even send them a doctored receipt from Western Union to convince them it was indeed sent. On one such occasion the scammer went to Western Unions office with the fictitious receipt so many times the police were waiting for him when he came the 4th time to collect and his associates emails me asking me to help get him out of jail! He was quite upset and said "Our Minister of Finance" has been arrested!" that made my day.
The two things people have said to me in the past regarding these scams is that:
I don't really believe either are true 100% of the time. As you can see by this email exchange, this person I fabricated was merely trying to rent out a room, and for a fair price. It wasn't part of a "Help me sneak 45 million of a deceased persons bank account and I'll split it with you" scam (although that is a common scheme); so honest hard working people are victimized by these scams.
I intentionally said all I could to see if the scammer had any sympathy at all. In the end, it didn't matter how sweet and innocent Misha sounded, that she would not be able to pay for college once the scam was complete, or that her mother was gravely ill. The scammer had no qualms getting her to take her college money and send it and instructed her to keep it a secret from her ailing mother.
I also wanted to show how they befriend the victim and prey on many lonely people. The young and elderly are common victims. I recently saw a young man on TV that simply wanted to sell his motorcycle. He was contacted by a man from overseas and sent a check for more than the amount due. He was then contacted by the "shipper" and asks to wire money so that they would pick the bike up and ship it out. He lost over $3,000 and now has to work 3 jobs to repay the bank or face criminal charges. He wasn't trying to get rich quick, just sell his bike.
I spoke with a Realtor last week that said she had in fact rented a home to someone that contacted her via the web and rented the home prior to arriving from Canada. They did send her a cashier's check, but they did not ask for money back; it was a legitimate deal. So it's not hard for someone to believe that it is legitimate since on occasion people do rent rooms in this manner. Then when the bank permits them to withdraw the money from the account based on the check being deposited, many believe that indicates it has cleared, when in fact it has not.
As for the Nigerians impoverished condition driving them to do this, that's not quite true. The bulk of the profits are going to the ringleaders and they have made billions. The Yahoo Boys are paid nominal commissions for their success. Many consider it a game, as this popular song indicates. It's called "I Go Chop Your Dollar" and has lyrics such as this:
"419 is just a game. You are the loser, I am the winner. White people greedy.... I take your money and disappear.... You be the fool, I be the master."
The losses from this scam are in the billions! On August 6th 2007 the EEOC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) ran a sting operation in Nigeria and confiscated outbound mail for the US and UK. The operation produced startling discoveries of how criminal elements operating from the country ship fake documents and counterfeit financial instruments abroad. In several packages they found fraudulent identification and counterfeit financial instruments neatly concealed in carbon paper to evade the sensors of scanners.
In all, 15,129 counterfeit checks related to advance fee fraud scams were intercepted. They included 6,948 blank checks and others drawn for the sums of $145.9 million, Euro 211,077, 218.00, over two million Pounds Sterling and 120,450.00 Canadian dollars. So this is a major problem that shouldn't be ignored and written off as "something that happens to greedy fools".
In playing along with their scam and allowing them to send the check, only to realize they have wasted their time and money in doing so and perhaps makes them more leery of who they send the checks to. I've noticed that some of the ads I place on Craigslist receive no response. The Yahoo Boys have private websites where they post messages to one another regarding their own bad experience with victims and who to avoid.
I hope that in doing this I make them more leery of any ads for Washington State property rentals. I'm not crazy enough to believe I can end it, but as I said before, if I can just save a few from this scam it's worth my time. I haven't taken as much time or effort as it may seem; I often do it when I'm bored or need a break. Also, I can't lie; it's a bit fun at times.