The Sun-Sentinel has a long article about a divorced woman and mother of two getting defrauded by a online friend. This is the first time I read of an acutal person falling for the Nigeria scheme. I've always taken the attitude if someone sounds too good to be true or fishy, don't get involved.
Open Post- Basil's Blog, Bright & Early, Is it Just me?,
For Gerri Tennenbaum, it was a "vulnerable moment" when she trusted someone she thought of as a friend. Now, the victim of an elaborate counterfeiting scheme, she might be out $9,200, her rental apartment and any hope of getting Hanukkah gifts for her two children.
A divorced schoolteacher struggling to raise her 9- and 12-year-old boys -- both of whom are mildly autistic -- Tennenbaum was feeling frazzled in early November by eight days without electricity after Hurricane Wilma.
She had been chatting online several nights a week for two months with a man who called himself Eddie Smith, a U.S. citizen working as a geologist and computer engineer in Nigeria. They met through a dating site and communicated via Yahoo's instant messenger service about work, life and the possibility of eventually meeting in person.
On Nov. 2, near the end of a long chat, Smith asked Tennenbaum what seemed to her a simple favor: If he sent some traveler's checks and money orders that he couldn't cash in Nigeria, could she deposit them into her bank account and send him the cash through Western Union? She obliged, figuring MasterCard traveler's checks and U.S. Postal Service money orders must be safe.
What she didn't know is that Smith, which is probably not his real name, was cleverly manipulating her for his gain.
It was an example of an increasingly common scheme in which Nigerian fraudsters befriend people in dating sites and chat rooms, and persuade them to send cash in exchange for money orders or traveler's checks that turn out to be fake. When the victims learn that the checks are phony, it's too late, and thousands of dollars have already been sent to the "friend."
Tennenbaum's bank, Citibank, told her that the $9,200 in checks and money orders she exchanged there were counterfeit and that she is responsible for repaying the bank.
"I have nothing," said Tennenbaum, 44, who teaches second grade at Mirror Lake Elementary in Plantation. "I'm a smart person, but I had a vulnerable moment and got suckered. I thought I was doing somebody a favor."
Tennenbaum was unable to pay her $930 monthly rent at Del Oro Apartments in Plantation on time and received a note from the manager that she could be evicted. "Every time I come home, I peek around the corner to see if there is a notice on my door," she said.
Through tears, she added: "I feel like I didn't do my job as a parent because I got sucked in."
To buy groceries, she borrowed $100 from a friend. And though Tennenbaum has explained what happened to her sons, they haven't grasped the implications. "They still have a list of things they want for Hanukkah," she said. "A Gameboy, I think a flywheel, other stuff."
To recoup its losses, Citibank took a direct-deposit paycheck and other money in her account totaling $1,788, she said. Though she admits she shouldn't have been so trusting, Tennenbaum also blames the bank for not recognizing that the money orders and traveler's checks she cashed were fakes. "I'm holding the bag for something the bank should have caught," she said. Eight days passed before she could see from her account that the checks were not valid, she said.
In an e-mail, Citibank spokesman Mark Rodgers wrote: "It is unfortunate that Ms. Tennenbaum was defrauded. However, customers are liable for the soundness of checks and other instruments that they deposit." If a check is counterfeit, "it is the customer, not the bank, who is responsible," he said.
Similarly, depositors must repay U.S. banks if they unwittingly deposit counterfeit currency, such as $100 bills.
Rodgers said Citibank requires "no specific actions" for tellers accepting money orders or traveler's checks. "Of course, if something appears to be suspicious, we notify the appropriate fraud unit for an investigation." He confirmed that the bank takes funds from an account if the customer owes the bank money.
Tennenbaum's ordeal started when she met Smith on an online dating site. She said she has been on "a couple" of sites, but doesn't recall in which one she met Smith.
Their chats -- they never spoke on the phone -- were usually mundane. She often told Smith about her tough schedule. In addition to her job at Mirror Lake, she tutors on the side and teaches Judaic studies twice a week at Congregation B'nai Israel in Boca Raton. He chatted vaguely about his work and his desire to start a business in oil marketing.
In retrospect, Tennenbaum said, Smith's evasiveness about his business could have alerted her that something was amiss.
At times the chats had romantic overtones. Smith sometimes said he loved her, but she didn't return those sentiments. Though the two exchanged photos via e-mail, Tennenbaum now suspects that Smith's were actually photos of a model he took from the Internet. He talked of moving from Nigeria to the United States, and the two discussed the idea of meeting in person.
Any offer from Nigeria should raise a red flag, said Allen Lowe, an expert on Nigerian fraud and assistant to the special agent in charge at the U.S. Secret Service Miami field office. "We don't consider all Nigerians to be bad or crooks," but the Internet is teeming with Nigerian fraudsters, he said.