When second-year Eric Lieu posted a listing for his chemistry textbook on Marketplace, the online listing of goods and services for sale within the University community, his asking price was $70.
He wasn’t expecting to receive a check for $4,370.
Lieu is just one of several posters who have recently received fraudulent e-mails from scammers on Marketplace, which is run by Student Government and similar to Craig’s List.
“The first person to respond was a woman named Patricia Roberts,” Lieu said. “Her e-mail sounded like any other reply. She said she lived in Rhode Island but was out of the country and would send me the money and arrange for someone to pick up the books.
“I talked to my RH [resident head] and decided that sounded OK as long as I was getting the money first. And then she said she couldn’t respond quickly because her husband had just died in a horrific car accident. I told her to go ahead and take care of her husband, and we would talk after New Year’s.”
But when Roberts sent Lieu an e-mail saying her cashier had cut a check for the wrong amount, Lieu began to get suspicious.
“She told me to get the check cashed anyway, take $300 for my troubles and send the rest back Western Union,” Lieu said.
Lieu tracked the I.P. address and realized that the e-mails were coming from Nigeria. And when the check finally came, he said, it was only for $3,500 and clearly fake.
Fourth-year Matthew Gonwa reported receiving similar e-mails from Roberts. When he e-mailed her with doubts about the check, she said, “Precise get your bank cross check my check firstly before jumping into conclusion. I’m highly disappointed with the sound of your mail. You sounded rude.”
Devon Ryan, a 2002 College graduate who manages Marketplace, said there have also been at least three reports of e-mails from Nigeria requesting posters’ names and addresses.
“Whenever people e-mail me with complaints like this, I block the ISP [Internet Service Provider] from viewing the site—if [scammers] can’t view Marketplace, they can’t send e-mails,” Ryan said.
Scammers are social engineers, said Bob Bartlett, director of security for the University’s Networking Services and Information Technologies (NSIT).
“They’re like con artists in the street,” he said. “They try to extract information from you or manipulate you through stories.”
Sellers on sites like Marketplace should rely on their business sense to prevent themselves from being scammed, said Colin Hudler, a network security officer for NSIT.
“Marketplace scams are against the seller more than the buyer, because the seller has to have an e-mail address here that the buyer doesn’t,” Hudler said. “A lot of it is common sense. Deal with local people first and meet them in person. Real buyers never use services like Western Union. And if it seems unbelievable, don’t believe it.”