Nigeria's latest: Scam targets classified ad users

No sooner did the "urgent business proposal" emails die down– or at least did better spam filters kick in– than those wily Nigerians came up another plan to scam the dollars of the unwary.


Seth Oldham was rather surprised when he ran a classified ad to sell an '89 Cadillac and heard from two interested buyers– in Italy and Germany.


The ad appeared online in the Hook and C-Ville Weekly with Oldham's email address, and both buyers offered to pay for the cars with a cashier's check.


Thinking it a bit odd that his only prospective buyers were from Europe, Oldham did a little research on international used car scams and hit pay dirt on


The con works like this: The buyer offers to pay for the used vehicle and shipping with a cashier's check in excess of the asking price of the car, and asks the seller to refund the difference. Naturally, the cashier's check is bogus, but by the time the seller realizes that, he's out both the car and however many thousands of dollars he refunded the buyer.


Oldham is not the only local who's gotten an offer to sell a used vehicle abroad. Mike Meadows put an ad in the Hook to sell his gearbox-free '92 Ford Explorer. "I wondered," he muses, "why people were so excited about a car with no transmission."


He got between 20 and 30 emailed offers. "They all loosely used the same language like 'legitimate' and 'trustworthy,'" he says, "and they obviously copied the email and pasted the listing in."


Meadows mentioned the overseas interest to his girlfriend, Leah Woody, a Hook ad rep. She warned him about the scam, and when Meadows emailed back that he'd accept cash only and would not ship out of the country, he heard nothing further from the first inquirer.


It's not just cars that are drawing exorbitant offers. Woody advertised to sell an air conditioner, and got an email from "Rick Benson" in Lagos, Nigeria, who was interested in purchasing it.


"I didn't even respond," says Woody.


And Hook copy editor Rosalind Warfield-Brown, who's been advertising to buy a Toyota Camry stationwagon, got an email from "Jennifer Smith," allegedly in Canada, who was eager to buy Warfield-Brown's nonexistent Camry with– you got it– a cashier's check.


A local landlord, who asked that his name not be used, says a potential tenant emailed from the Netherlands about renting a house. The would-be renter said he was an incoming UVA law student and would be sending a cashier's check for $31,000– $6,000 more than a year's rent. He wanted the $6,000 difference sent by money order to someone in Florida.


Although the check was supposedly drawn on a legitimate Missouri bank, "The red flag was that it came Fed Ex from Nigeria," says the landlord. The other warning sign: The check didn't have enough routing numbers on the bottom.


"The check would automatically be returned by the Federal Reserve," he says. That buys a few days for the money order refund to be cashed before the unsuspecting landlord– or car seller– finds out that the cashier's check is fake.


Lt. J.W. Gibson with the Charlottesville police says just a couple of such attempts are reported each year, but he hints at a more pervasive problem. "Most people who lose money, they don't tell," he explains.


And he has a suggestion for newspaper classified-ad users: "If someone offers you $7,000 for your $400 car, it might be a scam."


In fact, the Hook has, since April, been warning car sellers to be wary of overseas offers.


Oldham never did sell his Cadillac, and he says if he does try to sell it again, he may be dissuaded from using his email address. "They're not going to call you from wherever they are," he says.


Meadows did sell his transmission-less Explorer– locally– with his ad, but he requested that it be removed from the online classifieds. And he says he'd definitely use an email address again rather than a phone number.


Besides, he has great spam filters.


Seth Oldham was amazed– and skeptical– when buyers from Italy and Germany wanted to buy his '89 Caddy and have it shipped overseas.