E-mail scam targets students

Perpetrators supposedly want to sublet rooms, send fake cheques to students

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

A local credit union is warning students about an e-mail scam supposedly involving subletting rooms in London.

“We’ve seen a few isolated cases that our branches have reported recently,” said Harry Joosten, VP-corporate relations and a corporate secretary for Libro Financial Group, a credit union used by many local students.

“We’re sure there’s a lot of this happening out there, but this is the first year we’ve seen the scam aimed specifically at students advertising sublets.”

Last August, 19-year-old London resident Jennifer Johnston advertised her room on a local housing website and received an e-mail from a man claiming to be from the United Arab Emirates. The man said he was trying to find a room for his British niece to sublet.

Johnston sent the man details about her room, its location and her price and he promised to send her a cheque for $5,000. He asked her to cash the cheque and keep what she needed to cover the rent and send the leftover money to his niece.

Johnston received the cheque a couple weeks later and took it to her bank. A day later the bank called and notified her the cheque was fake and the company whose account it was sent from was no longer in business.

According to Joosten, Johnston fell victim to a variation of the “Nigerian scam.”

Joosten said after students receive an e-mail, usually from Europe or Africa, offering to sublet their room, the perpetrator sends a cheque or money order for much more than the sublet’s price.

The person then contacts the student saying they accidentally sent too much and ask the student to mail back another cheque or money order for the difference.

The student sends money back before the original cheque, which is fake, clears.

“We knew about this scam two years ago and for about a year we had a prominent warning on our website,” said Glen Matthews, Western’s Housing mediation officer.

Matthews said he hasn’t heard of any Western students being scammed this year, but he hopes students will come to Western’s Off-Campus Housing office if they have been or know anyone who has been scammed.

“Sending too much money should be an alarm bell,” Joosten said. “If this happens, make sure you show it to your financial institution so they can check and by no means ever send any money back.

“And always remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

“It’s very difficult for us to do anything in these cases because most of them originate from thousands of miles away in England or Africa,” said Dan Sprague, a London Police Services detective.

“We get reports of these scams all the time and since so many students are looking to sublet, they can become targets...there are so many scams out there that it’s unbelievable...people need to be very wary.”

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