Newspapers frequently are targeted by crooks, scammers

Partners in crime. graphic: A.M. Costa Rica

Those who may have been trapped by a suspect full-page ad for cell telephones in The Tico Times have learned a valuable lesson. Sometimes newspapers publish material that is not correct or is fraudulent, usually by mistake.

That has been true for nearly 170 years when the newspaper for the general public appeared. Almost immediately ads appeared for medicines designed to cure everything. In fact, several newspaper empires were built specifically to serve the patent medicine demand.

The Tico Times ad appears to have been placed by Nigerians offering to sell cut-rate cell telephones and other electronic devices. The same individuals based in Lagos sought to place ads in A.M. Costa Rica.

Publishers walk a fine line when they accept advertising. A newspaper is more or less a place of public accommodation. If someone comes in with money, they usually can place an ad.

Because of the proliferation of free classified Web pages, like Craig’s List, not many true scammers try to inject their ads into traditional newspapers and news Web pages. Some of the free sites are full of scamming ads and some that are dangerous. There are no gatekeepers on what is posted.

A.M. Costa Rica runs free ads, too. Employment ads are free. Frequently persons with Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail addresses seek to place ads. If they do not have a local connection and cannot prove it, the ad is rejected. About once a week, someone tries to place an ad in this newspaper’s Web page and the printed edition. Because A.M. Costa Rica does not use expensive print technology, the ad is suspect immediately. Advertising workers have a reader to thank for alerting them that an ad for a teacup Yorkie was a scam. Such an ad was placed once, and a reader alerted the ad staff that it was a fake, an effort to steal money from readers.

Typically scam paid ads are placed using fake certified checks or stolen credit cards. The Nigerian telephone sales scheme presented A.M. Costa Rica with two credit card numbers. Each bore a name unrelated to the transaction. Scammers collect, market and resell credit card info.

Scammers recognize that a newspaper ad carries more prestige than a mere email message.

Local hotel owners constantly complain about approaches made by scammers in which they seek to make reservations via email for a group of visitors from a far place. A party of 10 for two weeks is an attractive sale for most hotel operators. But the scammer plans to pay for the reservations with faked or stolen credit cards and then seek refunds with real money when the deal is canceled.

Email is fertile ground for scammers. Investigators report that Internet cafes in Lagos and other Nigerian cities are open 24 hours a day to accommodate the many scammers and their schemes. Nigeria is notorious, but it would be unfair to think all scam email comes from there. Russia, Poland, China and even the United States produce millions of scam emails a day.

One fake email Tuesday purports to come from the U.S. Embassy in Lagos. It offers $9.5 million to those who have been scammed by Nigerians. Another email, this one via Dubai, claims in broken English that a hotel made an error and the recipient is due $1,785. “In the attachment you will find expense sheet with the sum of wrong transaction writing-down,” it says. Instead of a scam this may be an effort to infect computers with viruses that can be used later by the emailer.

A.M. Costa Rica has published ads editors wished they did not. One long-running real estate ad promoted a Pacific project that was no more than a fancy entry gate. When sales of lots slowed, the operators vanished with buyers’ money.

Of course, there also were the ads placed in A.M. Costa Rica and The Tico Times by Roy Taylor and his Vault operation. Taylor shot himself when investigators detained him in his Avenida Central offices. That was in 2003.

In a curious situation, the Tico Times ran big ads promoting Taylor’s enterprises while a reporter in the same offices was writing articles highly critical of the faltering firm.

A.M. Costa Rica also published ads for Paragon Properties. Editors personally inspected the Paragon properties near Parrita and kept track of the legal documents that were being issued to would-be expats who purchased lots. Still, nearly all purchasers lost their investments when the business collapsed in the face of a market downturn.

That case has generated U.S. court actions.

The frequency of scam emails seems to have increased, perhaps because of economic contraction. And scammers are getting more sophisticated. Some construct Web pages to support their claims to be a legitimate business and suck readers in.

Meanwhile, the individual in Nigeria known as Billy Kasht says he is not a scammer. In response to an A.M. Costa Rica story featuring his operation Tuesday he wrote: “We have branch in Nigeria,Uk,US.Our email have been hacker by internet hacker before we trace them down.Believe in us.We are not for scam.Waiting your reply now.”

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