Omaha woman lost $2,500 in roommate-search scam

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Posted: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 12:00 am

An Omaha woman owes her bank more than $2,500 because she was a victim of a roommate scam, the Better Business Bureau said Monday.

“This is a vicious crime that was perpetrated on a poor naive woman,” said Jim Hegarty, president of the BBB serving southwest Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and the Kansas Plains.

According to Hegarty, the woman, a recent immigrant, was searching for a roommate on Craigslist and found an ad from a woman named “AnneMarie” who wanted to relocate to Omaha from Canada.

“I was trying to find someone to share my house with and she was looking for a job opportunity here,” the Omaha woman said in a phone interview. She spoke Monday on the condition she not be identified because of the humiliation she has suffered.

After exchanging emails, the two struck a deal and “Annemarie” told the Omaha woman that she would send her $2,796 to pay for moving expenses and rent. True to her word, “Annemarie” sent three separate money orders, which the Omaha woman desposited in her personal bank account.

On March 13, “AnneMarie” asked the victim to send $1,650 to a “mover.” The victim sent the money, which included $115 in processing fees. A few days later, the mover contacted the victim and asked her to send an additional $720 because he had miscalculated the fees. She wired the amount, incurring additional processing charges.

Concerned, she called AnneMarie's phone number and discovered it accepted only text messages.

Five days later, the bank informed the victim that the three money orders totaling $2,796 were fakes and that she was responsible for the more than $2,500 she had wired to the “mover.”

When the Omaha woman realized she had been duped, she contacted the BBB and texted “AnneMarie” to ask her how she could take money from a “hardworking woman.” The scammer's reply: “That's what I do for a living.”

The victim doesn't know how she can pay back the bank and told the BBB that she is “desperately struggling and scared.”

The woman said she learned: “Follow your instincts. If you have any doubts don't go through with it. Don't be gullible.”

“I will never, ever make such a mistake ever again,” said the woman.

Hegarty said roommate scams such as the one that snared the Omaha woman are common. Often, the roommate claims to be out out of the country and may discuss advance payments, he said.

Discontinue any correspondence from a potential “roommate or tenant” who asks you to wire transfer money or send funds to them or anyone else. Those are “huge red flags,” Hegarty said.

If you receive a money order for any type of transaction, “it's critical you check with your bank to make sure it is legitimate,” he added.

If you suspect fraud or are involved in one of these transactions, contact the Better Business Bureau toll-free at 800-649-6814.

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