An e-mail promising a large down payment for housing may seem like the answer to students' roommate dilemma.
But upon closer inspection, the e-mail is misleading, the facts do not add up and the message is littered with misspellings.
This recent trend of rental fraud has been hitting inboxes across the Fort Collins area. Tenants and landlords looking for roommates and renters for the spring semester should be aware of these scams before they find themselves a part of one.
Jeannie Ortega , director of Off-Campus Student Services/Resources for Adult Learners (OCSS/RAL), said the office received phone calls about these scams right around Fall Break. Since then the numbers have increased exponentially.
Although the e-mails vary, Ortega said scammers often claim to write from a foreign country and have a down-payment from a person within the states.
"The amount of money from the person is over and above the amount required," Ortega said, "More than enough to pay a full month's rent."
After sending a fraudulent check, the scammer asks for the remaining change to be sent back to them, Ortega said. A few people she spoke to tried to cash these checks, but fortunately most banks caught the fraud in time.
Ortega said she thought scammers targeted Web sites with open and accessible listings and e-mail address.
"We did more research and found out the scammers were hitting our site," Ortega said. Since then the office updated their database and placed warnings about potential fraud.
To prevent falling for these scams, Ortega and the Off-Campus Student Services/ Resource for Adult Learners Web site (http://www.ocssral.colostate.edu/) advises looking for:
* E-mails with notable grammatical errors
* A story with a sense of urgency, needing to find housing within the next month, as well as inconsistent stories
* The interested renter wants to use an intermediary or friend to make payment.
* Interested renters from another country
Ortega advised checking the Web site for examples of e-mails and suggestions on how to avoid a rental scam. She said these scammers mainly contact landlords, but also e-mail individuals who have a place to share. Ortega estimated about half-dozen students have been contacted by potential scammers.
Candace Taylor , a sophomore journalism major, said she received an e-mail from a woman studying in Kenya who was looking for a place to stay. When Taylor insisted upon meeting the woman, she withdrew her interest.
Shannon Kay , a sophomore open option major seeking engineering, said she tried everything from posting flyers to searching Web sites to find a roommate for the spring semester. During her search, Kay received several suspicious looking e-mails; ones she suspected were part of a scam.
"I've had some people e-mail me who were into that gig, and I could tell they were fraudulent," Kay said, "They spell like a two-year-old and always say they're from out of the country."
Kay said she would tell the people who sent these e-mails up front that she wasn't interested and only needed an exact deposit. She wasn't fooled by any of the scammers' attempts; the dead give-away being the abundant misspellings.
"Even (when) the people claimed they were from England, their grammar was atrocious," Kay said.
According to the OCSS/RAL Web site, counterfeiting is a felony, punishable with a fine of up to $500,000 and five years imprisonment.
Joanna Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.