21 August, 2015

Rebaiting your "Hook" -- with White Collar Fraud

A while ago I was in the midst of yet another painful round of querying agents.

I was thrilled when one agent wrote back that she loved my manuscript. That thrill turned to disappointment when she added that she just didn't feel she could sell the series due to the number of "culinary" series already out there.

The first time an agent asked me to explain my "hook" I was puzzled.  I'd written a mystery about a caterer, what was  there to explain? Now, more seasoned, I understand what he meant. And what the new agent was saying.

I needed a new hook.

But what hadn't been done? It had to be something I knew or could learn, as well as being  interesting enough that I'd want to write about it—hopefully over the course of many books.
I love to write about four things: murders/crimes, food, dogs, and all things techie, ;particularly crimes and fraud. So I've decided to incorporate all four into my manuscript, concentrating on food and technology to create a white collar crime traditional.

So, in the interest of educating future readers, I'll be blogging about hi tech crimes/fraud— along with murder, cooking , etc.

Today's crime is a real estate fraud perpetrating using sites such as Craig's List. I chose this particular scam because one of my friends was an unwitting participant just last week.

Mr friend has a house he wants to rent.  He hired a broker who listed the house on the usual sites: Zillow, Realtor.com, etc.

Along comes our con artist who finds the listing and reposts it on Craig’s List, posing as the agent, and offering a lower rental price to entice prospects. Unsuspecting person in Florida sees the fraudulent listing and wires $2000 security deposit via Western Union.
Since it was a real property--and most properties used in this type of scam are--even if the prospective renter checked on line, he would have seen the listing, or the aerial view on Google.

My friend knew nothing about any of this until he got a phone call from the local police asking him if he knew the "agent."

How can you protect yourself?

If you’re the owner, there is very little you can do to prevent this type of fraud.
If you’re the prospective buyer/renter:
  • always check this is a legitimate person or company by asking for a phone number or any identifiable information that could be further investigated.
  • check if the email address contains a company name, and if so, verify the authenticity of that company.
  • if there are errors or contradictory information in the advertisement with the wording, directions, communications (once the scammer uses one email address in the listing, and a different one when answering inquiries).
  • if the add contains spelling errors, grammar errors (Many scammers do not speak English well, i.e. ones from Nigeria and Russia).
  • never send money via Western Union or Money Gram. Use PayPal or a check so the payment can be cancelled.
  • If at all possible, if moving to another city, make a trip or stay in a hotel/hostel for few days and look locally for a place to rent once once you get to the new city. It’s a lot cheaper to spend few nights in a hotel than lose  two month rent.