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City couple falls for housing scam

By David J. Hill The Tonawanda News
A City of Tonawanda couple fell victim to a housing scam on the free classified website Craigslist, police reported Wednesday.

The couple, in their late 40s, used Western Union to wire more than $1,300 to a man in Nigeria named John Abayomi, all in an effort to rent a home on Wendel Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda, police said.

But instead of putting down a deposit on the property, the couple was scammed out of the money. They told city police they found the home listed on Craigslist and e-mailed the supposed ad poster.

The renter wrote back asking for a $500 deposit on the property, then gave the couple an international telephone number to contact him at. The couple had their telephone service changed to accommodate international calls, police said.

The fraudulent renter sent the couple another e-mail indicating that someone else had expressed interest in the home and that if they wanted it they should send an additional $800 for the first month’s rent.

Again, the couple wired money to Nigeria, prompting the thief to write again asking for $475 to cover various problems he was having in sending the keys through the mail.
At that point, the couple became suspicious and chose not to send the additional money. They even visited the home in the ad, finding that the curtains and blinds were all closed, making it impossible to see inside the home. They told police the pictures posted on the Craigslist ad matched the home they saw.

Immediately after city police began investigating the transactions, the Craigslist ad for the Wendel Avenue home was pulled, Lt. Fredric Foels said. “Think about it — you get all of the logistics of the house, put it all together, take a picture of it, put it on Craigslist and you’ve got the makings of a scam,” he said.

The scam is not new.

After receiving reports of a number of similar incidents in South Carolina in July 2009, FBI officials there sent out an alert to residents. It stated: “Nigerian scammers find homes listed for sale on these public search sites, copy the pictures and listings verbatim, and then post the information onto Craigslist under available housing rentals, without the consent or knowledge of Craigslist, who has been notified.”

The advisory goes on that once the posting is listed, the Nigerian scammer will state that he had to leave the country quickly to do missionary work in Africa and couldn’t rent the house before leaving.

A separate FBI consumer alert says scammers are likely preying on people as a result of the housing market. “This latest scam being perpetrated by Nigerian criminals located halfway around the world has been seen in a number of U.S. states, perhaps in response to the current housing market — with fewer people buying, more people are renting,” the advisory states.

Anyone who suspects a scam or has been victimized by one is asked to report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at http://www.ic3.gov.

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March 5, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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