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Off-campus housing scams target students

Students subletting their off-campus apartments may find some prospective renters appear too good to be true.

Visitors to the USF Off-Campus Housing website were met this fall with a warning that states, “There is an international student scam going on! Please be aware and wait for all checks to clear.”

Taylor Moskowitz, a leasing consultant at a local collegiate-style apartment complex, said the warning refers to a scam in which anonymous “prospective subleasers” agree to the terms of the student who is looking to rent out their apartment.

A check is sent to the student or property for an amount exceeding the actual cost of rent, she said. The prospective subleaser then asks for a refund for the amount they “accidently” wrote over. These checks, which are usually counterfeit, are not able to be cashed and have been an existing problem.

Moskowitz said no one gives out free money that easily.

“Use your common sense,” she said. “Just know if anybody sends you more than you’re asking for, it’s probably a scam. Somebody who does not know would fall into that trap.”

Kayla Stevens, Student Government public information officer, said in a message to The Oracle that the scams were not brought to SG officials directly. However, they are now finding a solution.

“As far as SG goes, we didn’t know about this issue and it wasn’t brought to our attention,” she said. “But we are working with Rent Solutions to make the process more efficient and better for the students.”

Rent Solutions is a company that allows people to post and rent apartments, she said.

Stevens said she is unsure of when the complaints were issued but is working on a contract with the company to ensure that students don’t fall victim to scams.

Ken Getty, director of USF off-campus housing, said Rent Solutions is the best way to avoid these scams.

“It would be free to students,” he said. “I think we are going in the right direction.”

Nicole Blackshear, a senior majoring in child psychology, said she thought she had a legitimate deal when she received a corporate check to purchase couches from the buyer for her off-campus home – a deal that could have cost her $2,000.

Days after a deal had been made through e-mail and phone conversations, she received a corporate check and deposited it into her bank account, which showed a $2,000 credit. The bank credited her without a check clearing because of her good standing with

the company, she said.

However, a woman buyer then called Blackshear claiming that she had fallen into financial distress and needed the money back. Believing the story was true, Blackshear wired the money from her account to the buyer’s account. After the wire transfer, the bank notified her that the check did not clear and the company the checks were from reported them stolen.

The company attempted to contact the buyer, but the phone number was disconnected and e-mails went unanswered.

Blackshear tried going to the authorities. However, she was told that the lack of information on the buyer made it hard to help her.

“It was just gone,” she said. “Don’t ever wire money out. Always wait seven days for (the check) to clear.”

A large contributor to the success of such scams is the credibility of the counterfeit or stolen checks. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website, these checks could be corporate checks, cashier’s checks or personal checks.

“The checks are counterfeit,” the FTC website states, “but good enough to fool unsuspecting bank tellers.”

The FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center website lists tips on how to spot a counterfeit cashier’s check, including: inspect the cashier’s check, ensure the amount of the check matches in figures and words, check to see that the account number is not shiny in appearance, be watchful that the drawer’s signature is not traced and inspect the check for additions, deletions or other signs of fraud.

The website also states that official checks are generally perforated on at least one side.

Blackshear said knowing what she knows now about this scam she would have approached the deal in a different manner.

“I was really mad at myself,” she said. “Don’t trust everybody.”