Thursday, May 24, 2012

Brewster Academy Check Fraud

I'm writing this in hopes of warning others about an online group of evildoers trying to take advantage of people. I have a condo for rent in Decatur, GA, and since my current renters are moving out I placed an ad to find new renters. So far I've had a couple of local calls and one person came by to check it out. Then I received an email from someone claiming to be an incoming university student (the condo is right down the street from Emory University) named "Tomaz Gayle". "She" claimed to be from the UK and wanted to rent my condo. Great! Except.... "Her" writing style was odd, either like a 3rd grade student or like one of my friends who learned English as a 3rd or 4th language. Not like someone born in England! "Her" (I use quotes because who knows?) posts also included far more personal information than a normal renter would use, like this: "I am a 24yrs old lady from Cardiff, UK and I would be doing a program at the University. I am down to earth. I get along with people easily and I like meeting people. I also like traveling, painting, listening to music, dancing, swimming, badminton, tennis and reading. I don't smoke and drink." Sounds more like an ad for a mail-order bride than for a potential renter, but I have many friends from Africa and other places who say odd things because of cultural differences, so at that point I was wary but willing to proceed. "She" said that being in the UK the payment would be sent from her father who was in the US. I explained that I had not yet approved them as renters, and forwarded my application form. Warning sign #2 was when "she" seemed to ignore that part. Long story short, after a few emails from her Dad, and an email from one of two references provided (btw everyone who contacted me in this used a email address - very unusual coincidence, and also makes them difficult for me to trace but fortunately easy for Yahoo to trace), I received a check via UPS. From New Jersey, hand addressed with handwriting that looks like a 5-year old's (also matches my suspicion that english is not this person's first language). Oh, along the way I also received some photos from the "young girl" showing her to be a cute young blonde woman. I do wonder whose Facebook page these pics were stolen from - I wonder how I'd feel if someone somewhere was sending out Chip Reaves pics while committing some sort of criminal act. The check, however, was from "Brewster Academy", a private school in New Hampshire. And it was for 7x the expected deposit amount: $3500 instead of $500. (BTW, the "renters" had never asked what the deposit amount should be). The way this sort of scam works is like this: Some unsuspecting person deposits this check, and the renter then asks them to send back some portion of the overage via Western Union or a similar cash transmission system. The evildoers are hoping the person will send the money back before noticing that the check from Brewster Academy does not clear. A quick phone call to Brewster Academy confirmed my suspicion - they've had dozens of these checks reported, none are legitimate, and that bank account has been flagged for fraud so no check can be drawn on that account anyway. So I'm writing this blog so that anyone who gets a similar check, and who might search "Brewster Academy Check", will find this story, hopefully before losing hundreds or thousands of $$. The good news too is that the FBI and Yahoo have apparently been investigating this for a while and they're tracking the evildoers who are apparently in New York. The sooner they can get these folks locked up, the better!