Jason Schumaker is a reasonable man, an educated man. But even reasonable, educated men appreciate easy money. So in January 2003, when an individual describing himself as an auto dealer in Nigeria offered $750 for the 1965 Ford Galaxy Schumaker was selling through Craigslist.org, Schumaker was curious.
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Sure, the proposed payment method was odd, but also seemingly fail-safe: Gover Rolland, who contacted Schumaker via a Yahoo e-mail address, said a client of his in the United States who owed him $4,300 would mail Schumaker a cashiers check for that amount. All Schumaker had to do was deposit the check, wait for it to clear, then deduct his $750 plus a $200 Western Union fee and wire the remaining balance to Rolland in Lagos, Nigeria. Rolland would arrange to have the car shipped to Africa.
It was a suspicious proposal, but Schumaker, 32, a former journalist who works as a clerk at the Seattle law firm Preston Gates & Ellis, figured he didnt have anything to lose so long as he waited for the cashiers check to clear before wiring the money. I really needed to get rid of that car, he said. I thought I could avoid being burned. Besides, he reasoned, it was not uncommon for an overseas dealer to buy classic cars through Craigslist.
Eleven days after Schumaker agreed to the deal, a check did indeed arrive. I knew it was probably fake, he said of the check. I didnt think it even felt real. But when he handed it to a teller at Washington Mutual the next day, she accepted it for deposit. It was a Friday.
That weekend, a perturbed Rolland sent Jason an e-mail, demanding to know why Schumaker hadnt wired the money or replied to his last e-mail: What is happening? he wrote. Why have u fail to reply my mail? Schumaker apologized. Hed been busy, he said, and was waiting to make sure the funds were available before he sent any money.
On Tuesday, the funds did become available. Schumaker was still skeptical and nervous when he wired $3,350 to Africa at the end of the day. But, hey, his Washington Mutual bank teller (named Destiny, no less) had told him the check had cleared. All systems appeared to be go.
That is, until his debit card was declined at that nights celebratory dinner. His account was on hold because of a certain $4,300 checkit was counterfeit. He was able to call Western Union and cancel the wire because the funds hadnt yet been picked up in Africa, though theyd been sitting in an office in Lagos for about five hours. The only thing he lostaside from a few ounces of sweatwas the $200 wire fee.
The guy did get me, because there was still a part of me that thought the deal was real, he said. You want to believe its true. (Schumaker was lucky compared to many others, such as the 73-year-old Florida man who lost more than $300,000 last year in another spam scam. He fell victim to one of the e-mails from a West African dignitary or lawyer that have graced all our inboxes.)
The scam that burned Schumaker is so common that Craigslist now has a warning posted on its site along with a plea for details on any individuals suspected of spamming for scamming. And in November 2003, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo announced that he would start cracking down on e-mail fraud originating in his country.