CORVALLIS, Ore. - Scam artists are always looking for new victims, and newspaper classified ads appear to be another way to find them. Paul Rozendal recently put an ad in the Corvallis Gazette-Times newspaper to sell a wooden chest and a radio he no longer needed. The retired school teacher was contacted by a potential buyer for the chest and was led into an e-mail exchange which ended with four separate money orders totalling $3,320 to pay for the $500 chest. The buyer asked Rozendal to cash the money orders, keep the $500 plus $50 for his trouble, and send the balance back to him via Western Union.
The object of this scam is to get a person to cash a fake check and wire the money to the scammer. When the check turns out to be phony, the bank customer has to pay the bank. The scam artists take advantage of services offered by phone companies to people with hearing and speech impairments, such as a "relay call." An operator types out one half of the conversation for the person with the impairment, and tells the nonimpaired person what is typed in reply. Scam artists operating from foreign countries have started using the service in order to disguise their foreign accents and foreign phone numbers.
Rozendal thought the potential buyer for the chest was hearing impaired. In the relay call, the buyer provided an e-mail address and began communicating with Rozendal online. Rozendal quickly realized he was the target of a scam. But others can easily be caught unaware, according to Susan Varga, assistant branch manager at OSU Federal Credit Union, Rozendal's bank. "The first time I saw a fake check, I didn't know what it was," Varga said. Scammers use the classified ads to contact sellers like Rozendal directly, often by phone because that's usually the contact information used in local ads.
Gazette-Times publisher Mike McInally said it is unfortunate, but probably inevitable, that scammers would eventually turn to local newspapers looking for victims. "We urge our customers to be cautious and know who they're dealing with," McInally said.