NOB HILL--Like many people in the neighborhoods surrounding the University of New Mexico, Marcia had an extra room she rented out to UNM students...grad students usually, many of whom were from other countries. Marcia and her late husband Joe had been doing that for many years. It was no bother really, the room was in the basement and the stairway to it led directly out the side door.

She advertised her room on the Off-Campus Housing website at UNM. There are over 100 units for rent on that website. Some are close to UNM, some aren't. Marcia's place is less than a mile from the classrooms.

A Phone Call
She got a phone call a couple of weeks ago from a woman in Europe, an incoming graduate student looking for a place to live near campus. She asked about the location, size, furnishings and such. How soon would it be ready? And how could she reserve it for the coming year. Marcia told her that she would reserve it for her when she had the money in hand. "Okay," said the woman. "I'll tell my father and he'll send you a check." Marcia talked with the father on the phone and they exchanged several emails.

Marcia did indeed get a check from the woman's father. But instead of the $450.00 she expected the check was for $4500.00! So Marcia emailed the father explaining that she deposited the check and would withdraw $450.00 for the rent and would use the rest of the money as the year progressed.

A Mistake
"Oh no!" said the father. "My agent in the U.S. made a mistake. He should have only sent you $450.00! I need the rest of that money for my daughter's airplane fare. Please send the extra amount back to my agent."

Marcia thought about that for a day or two. She looked in her bank account. The $4500.00 was in there all right. Still, she smelled a rat. For one thing, that check was a corporate check not a personal check or a cashier's check. For another, Marcia knew that there was a difference between money showing up on-line in your account and the money really being there.

You see, Marcia is a retired lawyer, a bank lawyer. She knew that a few years ago Congress passed a law that said banks could not hold on to your deposits for weeks and weeks without giving you access to your money. After a few days they have to make it available to you, no matter what. This leaves something of a hole in the system.

The Grift
Marcia called up the bank. She asked whether the check had in fact cleared. The bank looked into it, and according to their back office, the check had not cleared. In fact it had been determined to be counterfeit. There was no $4500.00 deposit in her account no matter what the on-line statement showed!

Marcia had been a phone call away from losing over $4000.00. It was a smartly executed scam that ran into an even smarter woman. Who knew that the $4500.00 that showed in her account might not actually be there? Marcia knew. I wouldn't have. I just might have sent the money.

A Warning
As of yesterday, Marcia had not called the UNM Off-Campus Housing to tell them her story. However their home page now contains the following caveat:

WARNING! If you receive e-mails from people in foreign countries who want to send you money orders to pay for rent/deposits, be forewarned, this is possibly a scam and you should proceed with caution. Contact us at

Notice that the warning says to watch out for people who want to send you money! That's the hook. You are made to think that you have their money...a lot of their money. Perhaps someone else was the victim here and told UNM about it. I don't know. In any case, be careful.

There are some lessons to be learned here. And one of them is that just because your on-line bank statement says the check was deposited, that doesn't mean it's really there. In the case of Marcia's room-for-rent, it took some very perceptive thinking and a phone call to figure it all out.

Views: 19

Comment by RiRiSynCyr on August 24, 2010 at 11:33am
I had a similar incident while trying to sell a valuable antique on craigslist. I had a buyer that I shared numerous emails with from out of state. They offered me a sum of money for the piece and said they would be sending someone to pick up the item, I would just have to cash the check they mailed and pay the person who picks up. My beloved fiance caught on when the check arrived and the person who showed up to pick up the item was greeted by my fiance and the Abq police - who confiscated the check and dealt with the pick up guy directly.

Talk about a scam! They walk away with peoples stuff AND cash from checks that will never clear.

one of the hints we found is that if the replies always come from a slightly different email address, it's probably a fraud. they'll change one letter or number in the email address, but will have them forwarded to the new email account so you always get a reply from the same name.

craigslist offers these tips for their site users - and I think they're pretty helpful across the board for those of us that are heavy web users:

You can sidestep would-be scammers by following these common-sense rules:

* DEAL LOCALLY WITH FOLKS YOU CAN MEET IN PERSON - follow this one simple rule and you will avoid 99% of the scam attempts on craigslist.
* NEVER WIRE FUNDS VIA WESTERN UNION, MONEYGRAM or any other wire service - anyone who asks you to do so is a scammer.
* CRAIGSLIST IS NOT INVOLVED IN ANY TRANSACTION, and does not handle payments, guarantee transactions, provide escrow services, or offer "buyer protection" or "seller certification"
* NEVER GIVE OUT FINANCIAL INFORMATION (bank account number, social security number, eBay/PayPal info, etc.)
Comment by ramon t on August 24, 2010 at 11:45am
Agree with RiRi. - We have a rental property in downtown and every time it comes up for lease we get these scams via Craigslist.
Comment by shotsie on August 24, 2010 at 1:24pm
Gee, this story sounds vaguely similar to a recent posting from a Nigerian student who was looking for a apartment and would pay for it the entire year upfront - not saying that the story was a scam, but it seemed a bit suspicious that someone would want to pay for an entire year's rent in one fell swoop.
Comment by JeSais on August 24, 2010 at 3:31pm
YEAH! Marcia!! I was so worried this was going to be a sad story.... Marcia totally has it goin' on!
for the business I'm in (selling welding accessories world wide) unless its a known company (say a multi national corp we've done biz with before), we almost always require a wire transfer. We get notice from the bank when the money is actually there. THEN we ship the product.
Comment by jes on August 24, 2010 at 5:08pm
Marcia is my new hero(ine). You go, Marcia.
Comment by cathyray on August 24, 2010 at 8:51pm
As I was reading this I was hollering "no, Marcia, NO" in my head. I was so glad to get to the part where she didn't fall for it! Puh-leez, does anyone ever really accidently write a check for $4500.00 instead of $450.00? I know I never have.

hooray for Marcia!
Comment by Stephanie James on August 25, 2010 at 8:28am
Who doesn't love a good ending. Good on Marcia.
Comment by Benny the Icepick on August 25, 2010 at 11:18am
Wow, Johnny, thanks for the story! I never would've guessed how a scam like this would operate. Well done, Marcia - I'll be on my guard now thanks to you!
Comment by Another Mike on August 25, 2010 at 10:34pm
This is my favorite:



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