In these days of high unemployment and a scarcity of affordable housing, what is more attractive than the possibility of landing a good paying job or a nice quality apartment for low rent payments? That's what several hundred people thought when they went onto Craigslist and found a dream job being offered in one section, and in a different section, a dream apartment.
But according to authorities in New York State, that dream turned into something of a nightmare for some 250 victims in 30 states when the job or the apartment they sought failed to materialize, and the information they supplied on applications they filed to try to land that job or apartment was used to steal their identities.
New York State Commissioner of Taxation and Finance Thomas H. Mattox announced last week that Susan Pemberton, also known as Susan Williams, has pled guilty to multiple felonies. Pemberton, 42, of Rockville Centre, NY, was the last of three co-defendants to plead guilty for their involvement in a multi-year scam involving fake Craigslist ads for employment opportunities and apartment rentals. The scammers used the identities and personal information from the applicants to file hundreds of false income tax returns using stolen identities.
Those responding to the ads were sent employment and rental applications that required name, address, birth date, and Social Security number. Using this information Pemberton and her partners filed more than 250 false New York State tax returns requesting more than $500,000 in fraudulent refunds. They also used the stolen identities to obtain bank loans and credit cards in their victims' names.
This case is interesting because it is the first I've seen that was prosecuted for filing false state returns. We know about the tens of thousands of fraudulent returns that have been filed with IRS. Now this crime is moving to the high income tax states like New York and California.
The use of Craigslist to scam victims shows how careful you and your family must be in responding to ads you see there or elsewhere on the Web. If you are asked to supply personal information, be extra cautious and make sure you know who you are responding to. Finally, the old adage — if it looks too good to be true, it likely is not true — is especially true on the Web.