Vail Valley: Property owner dodges an e-scam | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley: Property owner dodges an e-scam

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

Laureen Eck thought something was fishy about a check she received for a rental unit she has in Breckenridge. A quick trip to her Vail, Colorado bank confirmed the hunch.

Eck recently put a for-rent ad on Craigslist. She soon received a couple of e-mails from people interested in the unit, one from someone claiming to be a student, another from someone who said his overseas company was going to open an office in Breckenridge.

Not long after, she received a cashier’s check for $6,000 to secure the unit, nearly $2,000 more than Eck will need to rent it. The check, ostensibly from a company in London, was drawn on a Texas bank.

While the people who contacted Eck hadn’t yet asked for their change from the check, it’s a common practice. People who become victims cash the checks, send part of the difference between the asking price and the check amount back to the scammers, the check bounces, and the victims can be out anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Eck didn’t bite. She called her attorney, then took the check to her bank, where a teller confirmed that it was bogus.

The rental in Breckenridge is still for rent, but Eck would like to track down the people who tried to scam her.

That’s hard to do.

“These kinds of frauds are generally very large scale, and they’re hard to track,” Vail Police Department Sgt. Samantha Graves said. “We document reports and track leads until they run dry.”

But, Graves added, just about anyone can send a bogus check.

While this is the first time anyone’s tried to run a scam on Eck, VailSkiVacations.com has seen several. That company is a third-party agent for rentals, but James Bengala said that hasn’t stopped people from trying to send bogus checks to the company.

“I’ll be we received a couple (of offers) a week,” Bengala said.

When VailSkiVacations receives an obviously fraudulent offer, Bengala said the company will contact the shipping company that delivers the check.

“We’ll ask them to flag the sender as someone who’s sending fraudulent items,” he said. “We’ll sometimes send an e-mail telling them we’ve notified the authorities.”

Bengala and Graves both used the old line “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

And, Graves added, “Especially on Craigslist.”

Eck said she’s probably going to do full background checks on potential renters from now on. Bengala had a couple of other hints.

“If somebody just says ‘I like your unit, let me send you a check,’ that’s a red flag,” he said. “There’s usually a lot more conversation involved. We don’t do business with anybody unless we can get them on the phone.”

If you’re contacted via e-mail for something you’re selling or renting, here are a few tips to protect yourself:

– If someone is offering you more money than you’re asking, walk away.

– Make sure you talk, by phone, to the person interested in your offer.

– Don’t trust any offer you receive from outside the country.

– Don’t believe anyone who’s already arranged shipping for an item.

– Don’t cash a check that doesn’t have the bank’s phone number printed on it. If there is a number, call to confirm the check is valid.