Getting duped on the World Wide Web
EAGLE COUNTY – Lillian Michael, a former model who claimed to live in Africa, spent weeks earning Ciara Bartholomew’s trust before scamming the 25-year-old Edwards resident out of $4,000 in an Internet scheme.”It was a red flag but I’d been talking to this girl and she seemed nice enough,” Bartholomew said.Internet scams originating in e-mails, as Bartholomew’s case did, are common locally and nationally. The culprit e-mails are all too familiar -business opportunities, lotteries, wills up for grabs and pyramid schemes, among countless others.At the time, Bartholomew posted an advertisement on Craig’s List – an Internet clearinghouse – to lease her soon-to-be-vacated Boulder apartment. Lillian contacted her and attempted to rent the apartment, telling Bartholomew she worked for a British textile company planning to open offices in the United States. Lillian said she wanted the apartment so she could attend the University of Colorado to obtain an advanced degree and subsequently work in one of the new offices.To secure the apartment, Lillian’s so-called employer sent Bartholomew international money orders totaling $4,000. The checks were $3,000 more than the cost of the first month of rent and security deposit Bartholomew required.Bartholomew deposited the orders, which cleared the same day. Lillian and her boss asked Bartholomew to send the difference to Lillian by Western Union. The boss was vague why so much additional money was sent, only saying it was easier to send the money to Bartholomew rather than directly to Lillian.
Bartholomew withdrew the $3,000 difference three days later and sent it to Lillian. Bartholomew later learned the money order she deposited was a fake, and Wells Fargo deducted her account for the entire $4,000, she said.She reported the scam to the FBI, who told her these types of cases are all too common.Guarding against schemesDave Cruby, Alpine Bank vice chairman, said customers often bring in fraudulent cashier’s checks or money orders from scammers.”Unfortunately (it happens) more often than we’d like to see,” Cruby said. “They’re always searching for people willing to succumb for the extra money.”Typical scams the bank encounters are advance-fee schemes, he said. For example, someone will sell a car for $15,000 and be paid $20,000 with a fraudulent check. The scammer will ask for the difference back before the victim knows the check hasn’t cleared.If bank employees suspect a customer might be depositing a fraudulent check or money order from a scammer, the employee might try to find out about details surrounding the issuing of the check, Cruby said.
Still, banks are governed by law how fast they can provide funds from a deposited check, Cruby said.To guard against scams, Cruby said to “protect privacy, financial instruments, be aware there is the potential for fraud out there and there is no free lunch.” “If they overpay you, you better make sure you have collected funds,” he said. “If you have any questions consult with your banker.”Scamming the scammerVail police often receive complaints about illegitimate sales on eBay, Commander Susan Douglas said. Scammers directly sell a victim an item for check or cash – rather than a more secure form of payment like PayPal. The victim pays for the item but never receives it. “When you do side deals, that’s when you open yourself,” Douglas said.This past summer, Douglas said, two people reported being the victims of an online scam.
“If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is,” Douglas said. “Any reputable organization is not going to send you a check for many more thousands of dollars and expect you to send it back.”A popular trend in cyberspace is a tactic called “scambaiting.” Surfers lure scam artists into communications, drawing out e-mail conversations with the promise of payment, only to later tell the scammers to buzz off.The goal is to keep scammers from communicating with real victims by occupying the scammers’ time.The scambaiters often post their e-mail conversations on Web sites, such as http://www.419eater.com, for others’ amusement.Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14622, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado