Friendly Advice

This week, during National Consumer Protection week, our staff members are opening up and sharing stories of when they were scammed. Because no one is invincible to being #scammed. Let’s keep the dialogue moving, share this post and your own scam stories and lessons learned.

While the internet is an incredible tool, it’s also a scammers’ playground.  I encountered a Craigslist scam while searching for a new apartment, and the experience has stuck with me. I hope that others can learn from my encounter with a scammer.

Two years ago, I found myself scouring the internet almost daily as I searched for apartment leads in the Burlington area. One day, I came upon an amazing find on Craigslist, and I knew I had to act fast. It was a beautiful two-bedroom apartment near the lake with a brand-new kitchen and a backyard. It looked amazing and the price was irresistible!

Using the Craigslist “email” option, I contacted the person who had put up the post. I provided them with my phone number and expressed that I was very interested. Shortly thereafter, I received a text message:

Thanks for your interest in the apartment. I am in Florida on business so I can’t show you the place right now, but if you to send me the deposit in the mail the place is yours. Get back to me as soon as possible.

Something didn’t seem right. Feeling uncomfortable and confused, I showed the text message to my friends. “That’s a scam!” they said. My friends encouraged me to look on Zillow.com to see if photos from the Craigslist ad had been stolen from someone else’s listing—and they had! The person who posted on Craigslist had copied all the photos from a legitimate Zillow.com listing and was attempting to get money from desperate apartment-seekers.

At this point in the story, I felt embarrassed and angry. Why would someone do this? How could I have fallen for it? And how are they getting away with something so wrong?

This time, I was lucky. I didn’t send the deposit and I flagged the ad for Craigslist. My friends were there for me and provided much needed advice. Sometimes a second-opinion is all you need to spot a scam.

Here are my scam lessons learned:

  1. Be careful when searching online listings – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is!
  2. Always see an apartment in-person before committing to a lease.
  3. Do not provide a deposit until you have signed a lease.
  4. Get a second opinion: if you come across something that doesn’t feel right, ask a trusted friend or family member for advice.
  5. Never pay for online purchases using cash, money order, bank check, personal check, wire transfer, gift cards (outside the merchant’s website), peer-to-peer payment, bitcoin, and any other option that is not a credit card or known transmitter.

Have you ever been scammed? Tell us about it. Share this post and your own scam stories and lessons learned. The best form of prevention is awareness.

Contributing Writer: Madison Braz

Buying and Selling on Online Listing Sites

Most Vermonters love a good deal.  So, we know how appealing it can be to search for discounted products through online listing sites.  And, when the deal of the century is finally located, we know how easy it is to want to act quickly, rather than question if the deal is too good to be true. But sometimes the most important thing you can do is stop and verify an online offer before you pay.

At CAP, we typically hear about the times people get scammed online, rather than the times they found a great deal.  Vermonters report scams to our office so we can assist them if there is a way to recoup their money and so that other consumers are made aware that there are scammers lurking online, looking to take your money without earning it.  A couple of weeks ago, we heard from a gentleman hoping to close a deal on purchasing an excavator.  He fulfilled his end of the deal by wiring more than $16,000.  After receiving the funds, the scammer went dark.  This Vermonter was lured into the scam through a blatant lie; from a Craigslist post, he was connected to a realistic-looking eBay site to fulfill his order.  The site however, was not eBay.  The money that was wired was gone within a few moments.

Last year (2016) 122 Vermont consumers reported online listing scams to our office. And, fourteen people reported monetary loss due to wire transferring funds in response to an online listing. The year before (2015) nineteen people reported loss by wire transfer.

Listing scams take on many forms.  Sometimes the scammer responds to a seller post, overpays with a check, and asks for the remainder to be wired back.  Sometimes the post is for a fictitious rental property and the scammer is looking for the deposit and first month’s rent to be sent.  Sometimes the item being sold is a used car, riding lawnmower, or construction equipment.

Scams even happen when you are looking for that perfect puppy or pet to expand your family, but the transport of the animal is held up at the airport or elsewhere.  People have reported trying to buy wedding dresses, only to be bilked of their wedding budget due to scam activity.  The point here is, listing scams can happen with any kind of product or service when you least expect it.  The key to prevention is knowing the signs, taking an extra moment to verify an online offer before you pay, and if you are the victim of a scam report it to our office.

The Attorney General will continue to alert Vermonters about new and ongoing scams.  In the meantime, here are some helpful tips to help you avoid online scams:

Tips to prevent Online Listing scams

Contributing Writer:  Crystal Baldwin