A UCSB student was conned out of $3,000 earlier this month in an online scam, highlighting a trend of Isla Vista residents falling victim to Internet fraud.
The Isla Vista Foot Patrol takes several calls each month from victims of online schemes, with some people reporting losses of over $10,000. The swindles are usually in the form of phony online transactions, where people mail money to out-of-state vendors, only to find that they do no exist.
Fernando Gutierrez, a fourth-year Spanish major, learned of these scams only after becoming the victim of one himself. Gutierrez sent $3,150 to a man in Florida as payment for a 2005 Chevrolet Silverado but never received the vehicle.
”I felt that it was a legitimate transaction because I was asked for ID and to have my right thumb printed,” Gutierrez said. “Everything looked legitimate from an eBay Web page.”
Gutierrez found the vehicle and its seller — supposedly named Jack Nelson — on Craigslist. He then connected with the man on an eBay imposter Web site, sending him a MoneyGram payment on Dec. 29.
On Feb. 2, after the truck failed to arrive, Gutierrez received an e-mail from eBay saying he had been defrauded. Gutierrez contacted local authorities about the fraud on Feb. 8.
IVFP Public Information Officer Erik Raney said Craigslist scams are frequently reported.
“This is not an isolated thing at all,” Raney said. “We probably get a couple calls a month on Craigslist-type scams. Internet is the most common, number one way to be scammed.”
According to Raney, conmen often use payment companies such as Western Union to complete their scams. Raney said these methods allow phony sellers to anonymously pick up checks and cash, leaving little trail for authorities to follow.
“One of the biggest red flags is when they ask you to send a check via Western Union,” Raney said. “What happens at Western Union is that the sender receives a code, and they can take that code and go to any Western Union and say they are here to pick up their money.”
Raney said Internet scams in Isla Vista typically include losses of less than $2,000.
Depending on technical details of the chemes, Internet fraud can violate local, state and federal law. Penalties range from county jail to federal prison.
The federal government has established several authorities for investigation of Internet fraud. The Internet Crime Complaint Center, directed in part by the FBI, takes reports of online criminal activity. The site received 327,251 reports in 2009 alone.
To avoid fraud, Raney advises all online buyers to purchase items locally and arrange face-to-face meetings before completing transactions. He also offered advice for those who feel compelled to use money transfer services.
“Even if you are not face-to-face, call the bank for information on the check you received and talk to somebody at that bank and see if the account number is good,” Raney said. “If you fall victim to that and you pull out your own funds and the check bounces, you may not be covered by the bank.”