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Internet opening Juneau to scams

Posted: Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In early days it was easy to spot the snake-oil salesman as his wagon came to town with signs and bottle labels testifying to the wondrous elixir in his possession.

The internet may have changed the dynamics of the sales pitch but the particulars are still the same: if it is too good to be true, then chances are, it isn't true, as some Juneau residents are discovering on sites such as Craigslist.com or in simple personal e-mails.

"If it doesn't sound right or doesn't feel right than it probably isn't," Juneau Police Department spokesperson Cindee Brown Mills said. "So check it out. If it's too good to be true, probably isn't."

According to Mills JPD has received citizen complaints about various phishing scams.

One involves the senders being mugged at gunpoint in London. In broken English, the sender says that all their cash, credit cards and cell phones were stolen; the U.S. embassy and local police are not helping; their flight leaves today and the hotel manager won't let them leave until the bill is settled.

Another involves a Craigslist.com ad for a house to rent in Juneau. The purported owner is in West Africa due to job transfer and needs a responsible person to look after the place. The ad states the owner is a "kind and honest person who wants you to treat the property as your own and the money involved ($1,000/month all utilities included, same for security deposit) isn't important, just the tidy housekeeping so it will be neat for when the owner stops back in town."

The ad lists a Juneau address, suggests you go by to look at the neighborhood and exterior of the property and the owner will send photos of the interior if you "demand for it." The phisher offers to send keys later.

The ad then gives an application form "which I will like you to fill and send back to me, which will be used to process all documents that will be coming together with the keys leading to the house and this will come to you through courier service."

According to Brown Mills the scammer is actually taking photos and listing a house from local realtor ads.

JPD has posted a list of scam avoidance tips on its website, juneaupolice.org. They include:

• Never reply to an e-mail that you suspect is a phishing scam.

• If the e-mail claims to be from a friend, then contact them directly, not by e-mail, to verify whether or not they are indeed stranded in London or have a house for rent.

• Never click on a link in an e-mail in order to access the website of a bank or other institution. It is safest to manually enter the URL of the institution's website into your browser's address bar.

• Never give personal, credit card, or banking information to anyone unless you absolutely know them.

"When in doubt, don't give it out," Brown Mills said. "To avoid being a phishing scam victim use your best judgment."

Juneau resident Angela Kartes almost fell for the house rental scam last summer. When she got suspicious she told the "owner" that the house looked like it had been broken into. She informed the phishers she was giving the JPD their contact information.

"I didn't hear from them again," Kartes said.

• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.



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