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2016-02-04

Craig's List scam snares locals

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Recently, two Bandera County residents were scammed after they attempted to purchase vintage travel trailers on the Internet, according to Bandera County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Matt King.
Both fraud incidents of involved a woman who had identified herself as "Ashley Harris."
King advised residents to be extremely cautious when making large purchases online from unsecured sites. Although neither resident wished to be identified, they both wanted Courier readers to hear their stories and to beware.
On Jan. 14, a woman reported the fraud to BCSO and Deputy Birdie Tyler was assigned to the case. The woman had answered an ad on Craig's List for a 1959 Streamline pull-along travel trailer for $1,500. Through emails, the woman made contract with "Ashley Harris."
According to the incident report, Harris said she worked for Neighbors Drilling in the Gulf coast area and gave her address as 3717 Westfield Drive in College Station. Harris said she was selling the trailer for her mother and the money would be used to pay a mortgage.
Harris instructed the Bandera County woman to purchase eBay gift cards and email the numbers on the backs of the cards to a "secure" eBay site. Harris said the funds on the cards would not be transferred until the local woman received the trailer and was satisfied with its condition.
Using a credit card, the Bandera County resident purchased four $250 and a $1,500 eBay gift cards from businesses in San Antonio.
Harris said that once the numbers on the gift cards had been posted to the secure site, the trailer would be delivered for inspection. However, after posting the numbers, the local woman was not told where the trailer would be delivered - and subsequent contacts to Harris went unanswered.
Additionally, the local woman quickly learned the funds from the eBay cards had already been accessed. After contacting eBay, the woman learned that the online company would not refund her lost money.
Consequently, she filed a criminal complaint against "Ashley Harris" because the eBay site she was directed to was obviously fraudulent.
On Jan. 22, Tyler responded to a call from the Pipe Creek area and interviewed a second local woman who had been taken in by a similar scam. The second woman had found a 12-foot 1965 Jet camper trailer on Craig's List being sold for $1,500.
As in the first incident, the woman contacted Ashley Harris via email at ashleyharris0909@gmail.com; Harris relayed essentially the same story, which included personal information about her and her mother. The Pipe Creek resident also contacted Harris through texts to cell phone number 504-475-1337. Apparently Harris preferred to be contacted via texts because "she was having trouble with her phone."
The Pipe Creek woman was told to purchase three $500 eBay gift cards and send the numbers on the back to a "secure" eBay site. As in the first case, Harris assured the woman that funds from the cards would not be transferred to Harris' Paypal account until the woman "authorized" the transfer.
However, before the second woman could inspect the trailer in San Marcos, the money had already been transferred from the cards. Again, neither Craig's List nor eBay would refund the woman's $1,500.
On her computer, the Pipe Creek woman demonstrated to Tyler how Harris had built a website to represent eBay to ensure the gift cards would be loaded onto the "secure" site - which it most assuredly was not.
Tyler forwarded both fraud complaints to law enforcement officers with the BCSO Criminal Investigation Division for further investigation and review.
King advised anyone contemplating a purchase from any Internet site to look for an "s" after the http appellation - as in https:/. Additionally some sites feature an actual "lock" icon indicating that they are indeed secure.
"Above all," King said, "everyone should adhere to the adage: 'If (the price) seems too good to be true, it probably is.' Everyone should be careful out there, but especially when you're purchasing something on the Internet."