Internet Dating and Romance Scams

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s a crime so widespread that there is no way to stop it, and if you fall for it, police can’t do much to help you.

Yet with all the warnings out there, folks right here in the metro are still losing money to Internet scam artists. The KCTV5 Investigative Team reveals the secrets of a con man who brags that he knows how to get people to hand over their money.

KCTV5’s Dana Wright gets a peek inside the mind of a scammer who said it’s Americans’ naiveté that makes scamming his targets so easy.

One Kansas City woman is still haunted by an Internet scam artist who is likely half a world away.

“I’m so worried that they’re going to be able to steal my identity,” said Meaghan Osa. “I mean, they had everything they needed.”

Osa posted an apartment for rent on Craigslist two years ago, and her life hasn’t been the same since.

“They had my e-mail,” she said. “They had my address. They had my cell phone number. And to a point you think they could show up to my doorstep.”

In the post, Osa advertised that she needed one month’s rent up front — $330 — and someone e-mailed back right away saying that they wanted the apartment.

Osa said the first time the woman mailed $2,700 and the second time it was $3,500.

The payment came in the form of two checks. The woman e-mailed Osa frantically explaining that she’d accidentally sent her entire moving budget instead of one month’s rent. She begged Osa to keep the $330 rent money and then go to a bank and cash the checks and wire back the rest through Western Union.

“We didn’t think anything of it,” Osa said. “We thought, OK, it seems a little weird, but the money cleared so obviously, you know, this must be the truth. It’s not my money. I felt guilty for having it. She’s trying to get to the States.”

Experts said it’s a classic scam. Con artists hope you will cash the fake checks and wire six grand to them. And when the checks bounce, the banks come after you for the entire amount.

Overland Park Police Detective Dennis Reaser said con artists troll Web sites like Craigslist, trying to trick victims such as Osa out of their money.

If you think it could never happen to you, remember these seven words: “She let her emotions cloud her judgment.”

Those seven words were recently sent to an Overland Park police detective who was working on a similar case. It started with a cat-and-mouse exchange with a Nigerian scammer that police said included a dare to “Catch me if you can.”

The words were from an IP address out of Nigeria and they were taunting an Overland Park detective.

“(They) are very cocky,” the detective said. “And they know that Americans are gullible, which is why they come here.”

In fact, the Nigerian scammer, using the chat name prettypat1912, was so cocky with detectives that he spilled the top three sites he trolls trying to find victims.

When the detective asked, what the easiest way to find victims the scammer replied, “Craigslist, eBay and especially dating sites.”

The detective then asked the scammer, “How much do you laugh at dumb Americans who fall for this stuff?”

“I actually pity them,” the scammer responded. “I think they really beg to lose there (sic) money.”

The Nigerian scammer told police that it’s gotten tougher in recent years to trick people, but he writes, “Some years back, it was an average of $2,000 a week or more.”

When asked how he met the women he scammed, the Nigerian said he met and convinced the woman to work with him through phone calls and “bogus stories.”

In the end, Osa avoided a $6,000 loss to her bank account when an alert teller stepped in and discovered that the checks were fakes.

“I was so willing to do anything for them,” she said. “I’m kind of one of those people that think there’s good in everyone and then after that it was just like, ‘you can’t trust anyone anymore.'”

Former FBI agent Jeff Lanza said there are ways to make a consumer’s experience on sites such as Craigslist and eBay safer. He said persons listing something personal, such as an apartment, should only communicate through e-mail and never give out a telephone number. He also cautions people to never wire money to someone they don’t know because there is no way to track where it ends up.
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February 17, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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