The “Help Wanted” classified that ran for two weeks in the Curry Coastal Pilot and Del Norte Triplicate newspapers seemed too good to be true.
And it was.
Not only were both papers fooled into publishing the fraudulent ad, but at least one Pilot reader lost $1,800 to the scam — and several others nearly did, too.
“We’re getting a lot of scam ads and we do a pretty good job of screening them out, but this one slipped through,” said Cindy Vosburg, advertising director for both newspapers.
The newspapers are not legally responsible for what happens to victims of any advertising scams, but Vosburg wanted to warn readers about what happened so that others don’t fall victim.
Vosburg said both newspapers receive emails almost daily from scam artists wanting to place classifieds ads for jobs such as “mystery shoppers” or to sell purebred or designer-type dogs.
“Bulldogs are the most popular purebred scam,” Vosburg said. “We don’t run any mystery shopper ads, real or not, because we can’t tell the difference.”
The newspapers’ staff ignores such ads, and investigates others that appear legitimate but raise red flags, such as the one that was published in the Pilot and Triplicate.
The classified ad, which ran in the last week in April and two weeks in April, read:
The classified ad arrived in email form along with a local phone numbers and address. When Pilot staff member called the number, a person confirmed the ad was legitimate.
“These scammers have learned that we catch on to what they are doing if they use non-local numbers,” she said.
The Pilot didn’t learn the ad was a scam for more than two weeks until several readers contacted the Pilot and Triplicate, explaining they had applied for the job and quickly became suspicious. The papers cancelled the ad immediately.
But it wasn’t quick enough for one Pilot reader, a 62-year-old Brookings resident, who ended up losing $1,800.
“There were red flags, but I was desperate for a job,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous.
To earn money, she has done various odd jobs — painting houses, cleaning house and pet sitting. “The ad seemed like a perfect match,” she said.
Here’s how the scam works:
The scam artist sends the victim a check with instructions to deposit it in their personal account and then send some of the money via Western Union or Moneygram to someone else to pay for “bills” or “art work.” In reality, the initial check is fraudulent. The scammer preys on the fact that most people do not know how the check clearing system actually works.
Authorities warn job seekers that any time anybody requires someone to deposit a check for them, it is probably a scam.