By Stephanie Healey, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – It starts with an innocent gesture; the desire to find a temporary place to stay. Craigslist, a website for free online classified ads that is mainly used in the United States, has a real estate section that was set up for people who wish to find their new home.
In the Rio de Janeiro page (http://rio.en.craigslist.org), apartments appear to be mainly for short-term purposes and often over-priced for the foreigners that are targeted. This under-informed and often pressed-for-time audience has made the Rio de Janeiro real estate section of the Craigslist the source of a new type of criminal: the craigslist scammers.
When people post ads to find an apartment or house, craigslist scammers reply saying that they have the perfect place for them, even sending pictures of the dream home. One of these infamous craigslist scammers has recently scammed fellow journalist Silvia, who had been looking for an apartment in Ipanema or Leblon, Rio de Janeiro.
Silvia had posted an ad stating: “This apartment will be for a very well educated couple. I need a clean, nice, one bedroom apartment, close to the Ipanema-Leblon beach. Please send pictures and prices as soon as possible, I’m deciding today.”
The scammer, who goes by the name of “David Shrum” (a presumed alias), replied in a friendly manner, asking if she had found an apartment. He then stated that he had an apartment that was perfect for her, upon which he described the apartment and even attached photos with well written descriptions; “The one bedroom apartment is located on Visconde de Pirajá, 22 Ipanema Rio de Janeiro. In the living room you will find two arm-chairs, a sofa-bed and a small table. The adjoining, well-sized kitchen.”
Like many other scammers, they ask for a down payment of around R$400 before showing the buyer the actual apartment. In Silvia’s case, he also sent a fake notification from Heathrow International Airport, stating that she would need to deposit a further fee of R$500 in order to receive her documents and new home keys.
Once Silvia realized she was being scammed, she sent out an alert, along with a threat to the scammer, asking for her money back and saying that the FBI would be knocking at his door soon. The scammer replied to this e-mail with a frightening confession: “Hello, I want you to know I am a scammer and I have scammed over 100 people and if you want to see me I am in Nigeria Africa. That is not my phone number.”
Another con artist, known as Rita Codanda, has also been swindling people in Rio de Janeiro. She uses a similar story, looking to sell or rent apartments that are too good to be true. Both scammers say they live in England and both use the same phone number beneath their names: +44702407121, suggesting that the number is a fake, and they work together or are the same person. As a final detail, they both ask for a photograph or a copy of some identification:
“I would also appreciate if you send any of your photograph or a form of identification so as to have a better idea of who you are.” – Rita Codanda.
There are ways to avoid being scammed, as noted bu Jonathan Kendall, CEO, Total Security Solutions, Rio de Janeiro; “always meet the buyer and seller in a public place. Ask for ID, hold the ID while they ‘test drive’ the product….bikes, cars, motors, etc. Always pay with cash, never checks or wire-transfers to come later. Keep it simple and clean. Be pleasant, and expect a problem and you will be prepared for anything.”
A single scammer has proclaimed to have scammed over 100 people, and there are many more out there continuing to post ads in the Craigslist site. Alerting the community to these criminals is an important step to minimize the damage they cause.
“We must alert people and fight these evils. An association with experts and Internet providers, tracking the IP number, law enforcement, would catch and stop the scammers. We can NOT give up!” exclaims Silvia.
Correction: January 3, 2010
This article was first published on December 29th naming David Shrum as a Craigslist scammer without clarifying it is an assumed name.