In July I posted a blog about a Craigslist rental scam that I encountered. It was a beauty—misspellings, suspicious details and the listing’s poster even asked me to send him money (overseas) before I viewed the house.
It was an obvious scam, but I wanted to put the emails out there so people could see how the bilkers work. You can see the old post here.
The point of this post is to bring attention to my scam savvy. This month, the Internet Crime Complaint Center sent out an intelligence note about the same scam:
Rental and Real Estate Scams Individuals need to be cautious when posting rental properties and real estate on-line. The IC3 continues to receive numerous complaints from individuals who have fallen victim to scams involving rentals of apartments and houses, as well as postings of real estate on-line.
Rental scams occur when the victim has rental property advertised and is contacted by an interested party. Once the rental price is agreed-upon, the scammer forwards a check for the deposit on the rental property to the victim. The check is to cover housing expenses and is, either written in excess of the amount required, with the scammer asking for the remainder to be remitted back, or the check is written for the correct amount, but the scammer backs out of the rental agreement and asks for a refund. Since the banks do not usually place a hold on the funds, the victim has immediate access to them and believes the check has cleared. In the end, the check is found to be counterfeit and the victim is held responsible by the bank for all losses.
Another type of scam involves real estate that is posted via classified advertisement websites. The scammer duplicates postings from legitimate real estate websites and reposts these ads, after altering them. Often, the scammers use the broker’s real name to create a fake email, which gives the fraud more legitimacy. When the victim sends an email through the classified advertisement website inquiring about the home, they receive a response from someone claiming to be the owner. The “owner” claims he and his wife are currently on missionary work in a foreign country. Therefore, he needs someone to rent their home while they are away. If the victim is interested in renting the home, they are asked to send money to the owner in the foreign country.
If you have been a victim of Internet crime, please file a complaint at http://www.IC3.gov/.
It’s the first Monday of spring, and our weekend snow has largely melted. Here’s what you might have missed from our team this weekend:
–Speculation continues in the December death of an 11-year-old Noble girl. Watchdog reporter Michael Baker takes a closer look here.
NOBLE — For days, the 11-year-old lay there dead, dressed in a purple T-shirt decorated with a butterfly pattern.
Stephanie Wilcoxson committed suicide, a state medical examiner concluded. Death caused by very high levels of methadone in her body
But the questions don’t end there.
A methadone overdose, a finding of suicide, Stephanie’s young age, her father’s suicide in 2005 and a continuing investigation all combine to shroud the girl’s December death in more questions than answers. Conjecture and some innuendo have circulated around Stephanie’s hometown of Noble, a growing one-high school town of 5,800 people situated just south of Norman.
–Legalized gambling has contributed hundreds of millions to state coffers, but does the entertainment contribute to other problems?
Gambling in Oklahoma has contributed more than $184 million to state government revenues, but it has come at a cost to tens of thousands of Oklahomans who have become problem gamblers, experts say.
–The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on corporate spending on political campaigns is still being worked out at the state level. But the Texas Tribune has found what might be one of the first directly sponsored corporate campaign ad from Texas’ primary election.
–The right to an attorney is a fundamental part of our legal system. But the system of indigent defense may be under review in New York, according to this New York Times story.
–Further afield in Afghanistan, where the opium crop is a way of life for many poor farmers, American and NATO forces are arguing against opium eradication during the latest battle for Marja.
As tornado season approaches, insurance industry experts are encouraging homeowners to confirm that they have enough insurance to replace their homes should they be destroyed or damaged by severe weather.
“Reliable estimates reveal that between 50 and 70 percent of homeowners do not have sufficient insurance to rebuild their home in the event of a major storm,” said Jerry Johns, president of Southwestern Insurance Information Service.
Some of the issues to consider are increases in construction costs, any renovations or improvements to the home and local building codes, he said.
Consumers often confuse the market value of their home rather than replacement value, Johns explained. If a person does not have adequate insurance a company may pay only a portion of the cost of replacing or repairing damaged items.
Maintaining a current inventory of personal items in your home is highly recommended, Johns said. He suggests keeping a video taped or hand-written inventory that is kept in a safe place away from the home.
With the slew of recent vehicle recalls and heightened concerns about food and product safety, it’s important to note where to go when you have a complaint about something. (You could tell me, but I can only do so much).
Non-meat food (cereal, fish, produce, nuts, cheese):
Call: (301) 443-1240 (emergency); (800) 535-4555 (non-emergency)
Or the consumer complaint coordinator in your state.
Call: The health department in your state.
USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service
What: Meat, poultry or egg products
Call: (888) 674-6854
There is no 324 area code in the United States, but many people nationally have reported receiving scam calls that showed up on their caller ID systems as originating from the 324 area code. One Internet source, wikianswers.com, reports the calls appear to be originating from Ghana, West Africa. A Northern Oklahoma businessman said he recently encountered an apparent credit card scam that used the 324 area code. A man who identified himself as Preacher Tim from Idaho tried to get the businessmanto send 600 blankets to an orphaage in Idaho, he said. The scams reportedly take many forms, but a call that appears to originate from a 324 area code should be cause for suspicion, unless a person is expecting a call from Ghana.
Happy Monday from OPUBCO HQ, where I’m glad my pick for Best Picture, “The Hurt Locker,” had such a great showing last night at the Academy Awards.
Here’s a few of our stories you might have missed over the weekend:
–Watchdog reporter Ann Kelley had an update on an investigation into a decorated state trooper who has been accused of improperly handling surplus helicopter parts. The trooper, Joe Howard, continues to draw his annual salary of $57,600 on paid leave as the investigation now drags into its 15th month.
–A plan to protest a pending Open Records request by The Oklahoman may have backfired for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, whose members could face an ethics investigation for using state equipment to e-mail and phone the newspaper and the state agency that received the request at their association’s urging. (More background on the newspaper’s request is here.)
The workers were upset because the newspaper requested birth dates, salaries and other basic employment information for all state employees. The request remains unfulfilled. The birth dates of public employees have been deemed public information under a recent opinion by [Attorney General Drew] Edmondson.
Edmondson released the birth dates for his employees to the newspaper last month. Oklahoma City Public Schools this week released birth dates for more than 5,000 district employees in response to an open records request.
–While we’re talking about background checks, Watchdog reporter Sonya Colberg dug into just how much information can be gleaned from the state’s standard background check. Not included in the standard background checks by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation are criminal records from other states, protective orders or civil filings. For a good explanation of what is and isn’t covered, check out the box that ran with the story.
–The debate over what to do with health care reform continues to rage in Washington, but one company based in Tennessee appears to be playing on the fears of customers. Watchdog reporter Vallery Brown has the story in today’s paper about an alleged health insurance scam that has left a trail of unpaid claims across the country, including Oklahoma. (More background on that story here.)
–Courts reporter Nolan Clay had an interesting story on the limits of technology and law enforcement. It turns out a convicted felon who had already served time in federal and state prison for weapons and drug convictions was allowed to wear a GPS ankle bracelet:
Early last year, convicted drug dealer Ricky Fitzgerald Reese was sent to state prison to serve a five-year sentence for selling crack cocaine near an Oklahoma City high school.
He stayed 10 months.
In late November, prison officials put an ankle monitor on him and let him loose. By February, prosecutors allege, he was selling drugs again — even as corrections officials were supposedly monitoring him by global positioning satellites.
I talked to state Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland today about this story I did in December about an “insurance plan” that has left many Oklahomans high and dry. The company is called American Trade Association (And Healthcare America, Superior Healthcare, Smart Data Solutions and Real Benefits Association, among others).
The bottom line is, they are taking money from people on the plan and not paying on claims, Holland said. Some plan buyers say the company has paid on smaller claims like routine check ups, only to turn around and reject larger claims like emergency room visits.
Here is an advertisement for the plan:
Notice all of the Americana and emotional references in the ad? Here is an “informercial” about ATA as well.
Look for lots of documents and another story on ATA in The Oklahoman and on www.newsok.com this weekend.
And for those looking to buy insurance in the near future, the state Insurance Department encourages all consumers to call and confirm that any company or insurance agent offering insurance or insurance-like products is properly licensed to do business. Call the Oklahoma Insurance Department consumer hot line at (800) 522-0071 or visit www.oid.ok.gov.
Good Monday from OPUBCO HQ, where I’m wondering what to watch on TV now that the Olympics no longer dominate the prime-time slots.
Here’s a look at what you might have missed from our Watchdog team over the weekend:
–Reporter Sonya Colberg took a look at a proposed law to tighten up the educational requirements for drug and alcohol counselors in Oklahoma. It’s a complicated issue, because on one side you’ve got counselors with great life experience who might leave the profession if they have to get master’s degrees. On the other side is the state Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services’ effort to increase the professionalization of the counselors in Oklahoma.
–Randy Ellis explored one lawmaker’s efforts to revamp the state’s foster care system. Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Goodwell, is looking to Florida as a possible model to privatize Oklahoma’s foster care.
–It’s Oscar week, so I had story explaining how film producers are using the state’s film rebate and a separate tax credit to recoup up to 49 percent of their qualified movie making expenditures in Oklahoma. With the state budget crunch, the tax credit part of that incentive package might hit the cutting room floor.
–Finally, Ellis had interviews with both of the people involved in a dispute in Lindsay involving the mayor.
–Tulsa had some problems with concrete falling off an Interstate 44 bridge last week. The Tulsa World‘s Data Editor Gavin Off asked the state Transportation Department for a database of damage claims against the state. What he found is that it’s fairly easy to file a claim, but a lot harder to actually get the money.
–The Associated Press had a comprehensive story on the latest efforts by state lawmakers to expand exemptions to the Oklahoma Open Records Act, closing off public access to things like public employees’ dates of birth, information from the state’s Film Office and autopsy reports.
–Detroit is losing thousands of people in the wake of the recession, but its new mayor isn’t losing hope. He’s pursuing a new strategy of “smaller is better,” a rarity among mayors who typically tout grand projects. The Wall Street Journal has more on the story:
Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Bing, a Democrat first elected last year to finish the term of disgraced former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, hasn’t touted big development plans or talked of a “renaissance.” Instead, he is trying to prepare residents for a new reality: that Detroit—like the auto industry that propelled it for a century—will have to get smaller before it gets bigger again.
–Oklahoma has its own long-running lawsuit over poultry waste. Today, the Washington Post delved into the larger issues surrounding industrial farming and the most basic of byproducts. Oklahoma gets a mention:
Despite its impact, manure has not been as strictly regulated as more familiar pollution problems, like human sewage, acid rain or industrial waste. The Obama administration has made moves to change that but already has found itself facing off with farm interests, entangled in the contentious politics of poop.
In recent months, Oklahoma has battled poultry companies from Arkansas in court, blaming their birds’ waste for slimy and deadened rivers downstream. In Florida, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed first-of-their-kind limits on pollutants found in manure.
–Finally, The New York Times had its own pollution story in Sunday’s paper. This one looked at the difficulty of establishing jurisdiction in pollution cases involving the Clean Water Act.
ADA – Roberson Oil Company, Inc. was fined $3,693 for violating the Clean Water Act.
Environmental Protection Agency inspectors in October found the company’s oil field production facility, Jesse Hunton Viola Unit, in Pontotoc County had discharged oil field brine into a tributary of Clear Boggy Creek. Brine and salt contaminated water going into the tributary, inspectors said.
In November, the EPA issued the company a cease and desist administrator order. The company was to stop polluting and remove all brine and residual oil from the tributary within 30 days.
A spill of only one gallon of oil can contaminate one million gallons of water, according to the EPA.
More information on federal regulations is available at http://www.epa.gov/oilspill
In a joint project with our counterparts at the Tulsa World, we wrapped up a two-day series today on care homes for the mentally disabled.
You can check out the World‘s version of the series here.
Meanwhile, courts reporter Nolan Clay had an exclusive story Sunday on the possibility that pharmacy shooting defendant Jerome Ersland might have planted evidence at his store:
The discovery of the shell casing brings back up a key dispute in the case: Did the robbers shoot at the pharmacist? The casing could not have come from Ersland’s two guns.
Ersland told police he fired in self-defense because both robbers shot at him. He contends one bullet hit his wrist, breaking his watch. He said he shot Parker again because Parker was getting up after suffering a head wound.
Prosecutors contend Ersland was the only one who fired any shots. Prosecutors also say only one robber, Jevontai Ingram, was armed but Ingram did not shoot. Ingram’s gun was never recovered.
–Toyota’s recall woes have been big news for several weeks now, and the company’s CEO is due to appear before a Congressional committee later this week. The Detroit News has a look at what might be revealed, including internal company memos touting its success with regulators on a prior recall.
–Another recession story came via the New York Times on Sunday. But this one had a twist: a look at the plight of the long-term unemployed across the country.