By Trish Muntean, Fort Wainwright PAOJune 17, 2010
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - When Leanne Brunner, a paralegal with the Fort Wainwright Law Center, found an ad on Craigslist for a 3-bedroom, 2-bath duplex in University West for $1,000 a month, she thought her hunt for a new place to live was over. She started corresponding via e-mail with the supposed owner who was very understanding and accommodating of her situation and was willing to work with her. All he wanted from her was a signed rental agreement and a check for the deposit, sent to him in Nigeria, where he was supposedly working.
At that point all the little warning signs came together and Brunner contacted the realtor whose sign hung outside the house she was interested in and was told that the owner did not want to rent, but sell, and the owners were in country, not overseas.
"I'm just thankful I am a tightwad and I work in JAG (the office of the Staff Judge Advocate)," Brunner said. It took her a few days to realize she was a potential victim of a scam, but "I'm just glad I didn't send the money, all I was out was some time. But I got an education out of it." She had heard stories about scams, and had read the Craigslist warnings, including those not to send money out of country and to be sure to meet the people locally that you are doing business with.
"It's not just real estate, it's cars too" said Brunner, who is also in the market for a vehicle. "If you can't meet in person, in the local community where you're looking to buy or rent something, you have got to be suspicious."
Jim Wherry, chief of Legal Assistance at Fort Wainwright, says this is a new twist on an old problem. He said Soldiers are potential victims because "we're out there, we use the Internet, we are far away from friends and family at home and open to and susceptible to this type of fraud." He suggests that Soldiers "deal locally, with local phone numbers and local realtors and rental agents who have actual offices in the area."
He also recommends that before renting, Soldiers visit the Housing Office. "They have the preferred tenant plan, they vet these realtors and rental agents," he said.
Renting houses and buying cars is not the only time a Soldier might be the victim of a potential scam.
Working at home may sound like a great way to make some extra money, especially for those with young children or who might not be able to find employment.
Mary Johnston, the Financial Readiness Program manager at Army Community Service, said when considering work-at-home options, Soldiers and families should be "very conscious about any offers, whether it is through the mail, the e-mail, or on the telephone, because when Soldiers and families are in financial stress, some of those offers look very appealing and they may not take the necessary steps to check out what is being offered."
Johnston said Soldiers should check with the better Better business Business bureauBureau, ask for references, contact the financial Financial readiness Readiness program Program or legal Legal assistance Assistance office Office to see if there is any information that has been received about the company they are considering doing business with. "We try to stay current with what scams or fraud is being perpetrated at the moment." Johnston said.
"Certainly, with any offers be cautious about giving out personal information," Johnston said. "Anything that asks up front about any personal information, bank account, birth date, Social Security number, you don't want to give that out."
Providing that information could lead to identity theft from which Johnston said "a whole range of problems can arise. It can be withdrawals from bank accounts, accounts set up in a customer's name fraudulently, loans opened, just all kinds of things could happen."
Both Johnston and Wherry warned that when conducting any sort of business, such as renting a home, buying a car or entering a work-at-home agreement you should keep in mind that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.