Triplicate/Pilot warns of ad scam

By WesCom News Service May 20, 2013 04:16 pm

A “Help Wanted” classified that ran for two weeks in the Del Norte Triplicate and Curry Coastal Pilot newspapers seemed too good to be true.

And it was.

At least one Pilot reader lost $1,800 to the scam — and several others nearly did, too. 

“We’re getting a lot of scam ads and we do a pretty good job of screening them out, but this one slipped through,” said Cindy Vosburg, advertising director for both newspapers.

The newspapers are not legally responsible for what happens to victims of any advertising scams, but Vosburg wanted to warn readers about what happened so that others don’t fall victim. 

Vosburg said both newspapers receive emails almost daily from scam artists wanting to place classifieds ads for jobs such “mystery shoppers” or to sell purebred or designer-type dogs.

“Bulldogs are the most popular purebred scam,” Vosburg said. “We don’t run any mystery shopper ads, real or not, because we can’t tell the difference.”

The newspapers’ advertising staff ignores such ads, and investigates others that appear legitimate but raise red flags, such as the one that was published in the Triplicate and Pilot.

The classified ad that was published read:

“Personal assistant needed for chauffeuring, setting appts., cleaning, running errands, personal shopping, laundry, walk dogs & banking. You will have access to a car, send resume with salary expectations to: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

The classified ad arrived in email form along with a local phone numbers and address. When a Pilot staff member called the number, a person confirmed the ad was legitimate.

“These scammers have learned that we catch on to what they are doing if they use non-local numbers,” Vosburg said.

The newspapers didn’t learn the ad was a scam for more than two weeks until several readers contacted the Triplicate and Pilot, explaining they had applied for the job and quickly became suspicious. The papers canceled the ad immediately.

But it wasn’t quick enough for one Pilot reader, a 62-year-old Brookings resident, who ended up losing $1,800.

“There were red flags, but I was desperate for a job,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous.

To earn money, she has done various odd jobs — painting houses, cleaning house and pet sitting. “The ad seemed like a perfect match,” she said.

Here’s how the scam works:

The victim contacts the “employer,” who sends checks or money orders to cover “bills” or buy artwork on his behalf. The victim is told to cash the checks, wait for them to clear, and then forward the “payment” via Western Union or Moneygram. In reality, the initial checks or money orders are fraudulent. The scammer preys on the fact that most people do not know how the check clearing system actually works. 

Authorities warn job seekers that anytime anybody requires someone to deposit a check for them, it is probably a scam.