Scam takes UVA student for $3,660

The Cavalier Daily is reporting this morning that another Virginia college student has fallen prey to the "overpaid apartment scam," which the Hook's Fearless Consumer wrote about last week.

Here's how it works. An out-of-area person replies to a classified ad by offering to pay in advance for an apartment rental, in this case a summer sublet from second-year UVA student Shelina Merchant, with checks or money orders exceeding the total bill. The student is then asked to refund the difference between the overpayment and the actual amount due, $3,660. Unfortunately, the latest victim learned too late, the payments were made in bogus money orders.

This scam first came to light with cars in an October 7, 2004 Hook story and again with apartments in the Fearless Consumer's January 26, 2006 column.

The precedents for these devastating confidence games include the "Nigerian 419" and the "Spanish Prisoner" scams.) The difference is that the newest versions don't target the greedy who think they have a shot at millions; they rip off people who just want to sell a vehicle or find a tenant for their apartment.

One unfortunate wrinkle in the latest case is that the UVA victim, mentioning contacts to several law enforcement agencies, indicates that she has yet to find one willing to vigorously pursue the fraud.