Recently, my roommate, had his job contract terminated. He found a new job in another city which meant I had to hunt for a new roommate. So I quickly posted an ad on Sulekha, a popular website in USA among Indians.
A month ago I had stumbled upon an old friend in a private birthday bash. He was raving about a rent scam. More than thousands of dollars were siphoned off his account. Barring some sympathy, I paid little heed to his story. Little did I know I would almost fell for a similar scam.
You have a text message
Good morning Tushar, My name is Upeksa and I'm a professional, single and decent. I find your ads on Sulekha interesting and meets my specification, can you please respond back as I'm very serious about renting this unit.
I thought it would be better to negotioate in call. So I tried calling the number. But he didn’t receive my call.
I'm here Tushar, due to middle ear infections I will only respond to text
Red Flag! If a person doesn't pick your phone, most probably he is not genuine.
Anyways, I still gave him benefit of doubt and proceeded with our conversation.
Would you like to come and see the apartment?
Unfortunately I can't view this unit at the moment
So are you interested in the apartment?
Sure I'm interested in renting this room in the apartment
So how do we go forward? Do you want to see the pics or ask any details?
I will appreciate if you can send me some photos before we proceed further since I will not able to view the place in person.
I sent him the photos of the apartment & its details.
I am planning to move in as soon as you give me the go ahead and only after payment mode has been discussed and paid. I believe you are okay with Check payment in replace of cash or online transfer? If you are pleased with the check payment then you will need to forward me your mailing address/apartment number and names to be written on the check payment.
So your total rent is $**** including all utilities. Is that k?
Perfect, I'm very comfortable with my rent
Then he begins to babble about his professonal & personal life.
Brief introduction about myself. I'm a pure vegetarian, a professional in the IT sector, I live and work here in Hawaii but on a job relocation hence will need a place to rent as I have 6/12 months project I need to work on. I still kind of follow the Hindu culture partially I am not a traditional Hindu person. Am originally from Eluru A.P. Have been around the USA for a while now.
I am 34 yrs, I will be staying alone on my arrival. I work for CISCO SYSTEMS as a security expert (BASICALLY IN CHARGE OF THEIR SERVERS). I don't drink, or smoke. I am easy to get free along with others. I respect people's privacy and also love to live in a clean house.
I am rarely interested in someone's personal belief or food habits unless it infringes in my personal space. However, I patiently listened to his rambling. Later we talked about payment.
As regard to payment to secure this unit up front to my arrival, I have a financier and he will be handling my move in cost on my behalf.
Surely I clearly understand and will make payment for the utility bills in person once I arrive
I have discussed with my financier and he has agreed to issue out payment to you right away through certified cheque.
Red Flag! If a person makes the process of payment complicated like involving a third person, be extra careful.
Can you transfer money via online banking? It would be much faster
Sorry, my good friend, my financier can only issue out a cheque payment now.
My subsequent rent bills will be made by online transfer
All you have to do is once you get the cheque is to deposit into your bank account and the total funds on the cheque will be cleared and made available for use tomorrow morning OK
k. My Name : Tushar Sharma
Address : **********
Thanks! I got it Tushar and I have immediately forwarded your details to my financier.
Also, can you email me any scan you your id or anything to verify your name?
Sure that is perfectly fine with me
I will gladly send you a copy of my passport ID copy right away
Red Flag! People usually avoid sharing passport details so blatantly. They mostly share, if required, driving license or State ID, etc. , but only after establishing some level of trust. Usually, nobody shares their personal document to a stranger within mere ten minutes of acquaintance
Red Flag! His citizenship is the United Kingdom. Most of the Indians working in the US are either on H1B, green card or US citizenship.
My financier is issuing out the cheque payment to you now
The amount of the cheque which you will receive shortly will consist of both my total rent and my travel expense
Red Flag! If anyone is sending you extra money, be very careful
What is the extra amount?
See if you transfer any amount to my account, it has to be exact $***, else I won't cash it
So all you have to do once you get the cheque copy is to make sure you deposit into your bank right away
I need you to please help me with this huge favor, I have closed down my account with the local bank I am using here. Since I will be relocating, will only be able to open a new account on my arrival since BOH(Bank of Hawaii) does not have other branches in other cities.
Please, this will be the only time I will make payment in this form. OK
Please I'm pleading with you to assist me with this and I promise you will not regret helping me out
I don't want to lose this great opportunity
I already take you as a family and I honestly can't wait to meet you in person on arrival
Will sincerely appreciate if you could please take off the advertisement from the public view as I am more than 100% certain and committed to rent your place after we have been able to finalize on the cheque payment
Red Flag! His sane conversation had turned comical with his incessant pleading and copious excitement over meeting me & the apartment
Red Flag! Hawaii is one of the states of United States. If he is already living in the USA (as he claims), he should be able to easily access his account or make an appropriate arrangement. If he was coming from another country, I might have believed him.
A quick google search can throw light on cashier rent scam, so this is how it works
The buyer uses a cashier’s check or money order. They explain that this is their only option for payment.
The seller or recipient gets a check for more than they asked for.
The seller is supposed to send the extra money back to the buyer or to a “helper."
But's here's the catch. After you deposit the fradulent cheque in the bank, the bank must provide you with the cash to withdraw within 2 business days. But it can take more than four days for banks to verify if the cheque is genuine.
Once the bank finds out the cheque is bogus, it reverses the amount. In the meantime, if you had already transferred money to someone else, the money is lost. And now you also owe bank that transferred amount.
So far I have realized that this was a scamster. But I wanted to have some fun, so I played along
So when are you sending the cheque?
Next morning, he replies with a flattery message.
Good morning dear Tushar, how was your night? I hope you slept well?
Not really, my pet orangutan kept me awake all night.
Alright, please what is the update regarding the cheque payment that I sent to you? Have you completed the Mobile deposit please?
Red Flag! He didn't ask me how come I have orangutan in my apartment. How often do people keep apes as pets ? But all he cares about is cheque deposit.
He had sent me images of the cheque to deposit with the following instructions
You have to first of all print out both front and back of cheque
PLEASE NOTE YOU MUST CUT both front and back of check out carefully to check size.
Endorse the back of the check (sign)and write "For Mobile check Deposit Only" and sign.
You will have to enter the required amount.
Kindly send to me the screenshot/email from your financial institution once you are done.
Will appreciate if you can take print out today and initiate the mobile deposit so that the full amount will be credited into your account by tomorrow.
Now I am fabricating outlandish lies about myself to see how he reacts.
Ok . I'll deposit it today. But I wanted to know more about you? Are you married ?
Perfect and no I have never been married. I'm still single
Ok. Are you working full time or contract at CISCO ?
I work full time with CISCO.
Are you a pure vegetarian? I sometimes eat seafood, chicken, sea-shell, duck or crave for cannibalistic desire. Is that acceptable to you?
Sure I honestly don't have any problem with you eating habit in the unit but I'm a pure vegetarian and I don't cook.
Ok. I 'll deposit the cheque today after work. Also, I forgot to tell you that I practice Tantra. As a traditional Hindu myself, I sometimes practice nudity in my apartment. I hope that wouldn't bother you.
Sure that is not a problem.
Red Flag! He has no problem with me being cannibal or nude. He was agreeing to pretty much everything I was saying.
It was time to end the conversation as the fatigue was creeping in.
That's very nice. So what are your skills ? Do you work in JAVA / C++ , Python ?
You have asked me a million questions, please update me as soon as you deposit the cheque.
I asked your skills because I thought you were smart enough to know that other people could google.
I hope you are not Indian because you are sullying the reputation of Indians. But in life everyone has their reasons so who am I to judge.
When we read about scams, our first reaction is to dismiss it wholeheartedly with a mere retort "How can someone by that stupid? ". But I have personally known many smart people falling for either rent scam, or USCIS scam, or 911 scam, etc.
The best remedy against any scam is knowledge. And I would have probably fallen for this rent scam had I not met my old friend for coincidence. In conclusion, Charles Dickens probably have surmised it succinctly
"Not a particle of evidence, Pip," said Mr. Jaggers, shaking his head and gathering up his skirts. "Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There's no better rule." - Charles Dickens in Great Expectations