I've been writing about Internet scams for a decade, so you'd think I would be pretty good
at spotting one.
But I have to admit it. I was lured in . . . Well, almost.
And seeing it from this side of the con, I now know how easy it is to succumb.
I suspect that my overconfidence in detecting scams may have dulled my senses when I came across that Craigslist ad.
Or rather it may have been a combination of overconfidence and a bit of desperation - which, come to think of it, describes many of the fraud victims that I've spoken to over the years.
I have been searching for rental housing in this market of four per cent vacancy, which hasn't been easy. In fact, that vacancy rate undoubtedly attracted the swindlers in the first place.
When I read about a two-bedroom, two-bathroom downtown condo with parking, access to
a sauna, gym and pool for only $900 a month all utilities included - well, let's say my interest was piqued.
(This is the point where I should've remembered rule number one: if it sounds too good to be true, it is.)
When I emailed the Craigslist ad the respondent said he'd recently moved to the UK.
He's not interested in making a profit, just wants to find someone he could trust. How noble.
He even goes so far as to ask whether I'd be staying six months or a year. (These details lend the transaction authenticity, I guess.)
"The only problem is that
I need to send you the keys and papers because it is a private property. I'm sure we can make this happen," he adds.
This surely can't be a request for money without viewing and talking to some sort of property manager.
(Cue red flag number two.)
I reply that I'm very interested (read: sucker) and I would just need to see the place before renting.
His response didn't acknowledge my request for viewing.
He says the online purchasing service ClickandBuy would legitimize the condo's ownership through their "Real Estate Professional Department in London" and send me the keys and lease in exchange for funds that ClickandBuy would hold until I authorize the release.
Really? ClickandBuy does all that?
Well now I wake up. No matter how eager I am to lie back in my lovely new home (or sauna) looking out at my lovely view with the comfort of knowing my bank account would hold up, I know I must look at the cold hard facts.
A Google search of "clickandbuy scams" reveals a litany of blog postings with the exact emails I had received word-for-word.
These types of swindles have even led ClickandBuy to post a warning: "If you have been informed by a vendor that we can accept transactions this way we believe they are trying to defraud you..."
Scoff at my gullibility if you will. I know I am.
But don't forget to be on guard. The justice system won't protect you against these criminals, the vast majority of whom face no detection and no punishment.
As RCMP investigators have told me time and again when asked about online scams: "There's nothing we can do."
Sylvie Paillard is a staff reporter at The Daily News. Reach her at email@example.com.
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