Scammers who post ads on Craigslist and Kijiji for apartments in Edmonton that don’t exist have a new trick to deceive skeptical consumers — they suggest victims wire money to themselves or to family members.
The scam artists tell their victims the transaction is safe, but it isn’t.
Heather Godsoe got burned for $2,500 shortly before Christmas after responding to a Craigslist ad for a condo in Sherwood Park, east of Edmonton
Godsoe had a lengthy exchange of emails with the person posting the ad, who called herself Tori Bertosik and said she lived in Red Deer, Alta.
The woman wanted some assurance Godsoe was serious and had the money.
The woman told Godsoe she had driven to Sherwood Park to meet other renters at the condo, only to have them change their minds or not show up.
The fraudster asked Godsoe to prove she was serious by sending a damage deposit and first month’s rent via Western Union.
Scammer insists money be sent to family member
"They made it very clear not to send (the money) to them," Godsoe said. Godsoe wired the $2,500 to her mother instead.
By the time the fraudsters arrived at Western Union, Godsoe’s mother had collected the money, and deposited it back into Godsoe’s bank account.
They then emailed Godsoe and said because the money had been collected they couldn’t verify the amount and asked her to send it again.
Godsoe wired the money a second time to her fiancé who was working near Wabasca.
This time the money was collected in less than 12 hours, but not by Godsoe’s fiancé.
Godsoe called Western Union and was told the money had been picked up only a few minutes earlier. She said beyond that, Western Union was being tight-lipped. "They were giving me absolutely no information."
Godsoe said she was later told that money had been picked up in Downsview, Ontario.
Western Union aware of scam
"It’s a scam we are familiar with," said Derek McMillan, Western Union's Director of Fraud Risk Management.
McMillan said although money can be claimed at any Western Union in Canada, there are safeguards.
People claiming money must show current government-issued photo identification.
"It’s frightening, but we are seeing cases where fake ID can be created very quickly."
McMillan said claimants also must supply a tracking number, called a Money Transfer Control Number (MTCN).
"The only way an agent can look up and pay out a transaction is if they have that 10-digit number."
Godsoe denied she ever revealed her MTCN to the fraudsters, and wants to know what kind of ID the crooks were able to use on such short notice.
McMillan said in many cases Western Union will refund to fraud victims the fees they paid to transfer the funds, but the $2,500 Godsoe wired to her fiancé is gone.
Consumer experts have long warned people not to wire money to people they’ve never met, but fraudsters are now using that advice to their benefit and requesting people send the money to family instead.
"What we want our consumers to do is question that practice, and question the fact (Godsoe) has never met the people she is going to rent the apartment from," McMillan said.