When, in the midst of his search for accommodations in the Boston area for his son’s graduation from MIT this spring, Mike, a North Carolina resident, found an ad on Craigslist for JP’s Taylor House Bed & Breakfast, it seemed like a square deal.
“I was looking for a vacation week rental in the Boston area for a week at the end of May and the beginning of June,” on a number of different web sites. “The description [of the Taylor House] on the Craigslist ad matched the description [Taylor House owner] David [Elliott] posted” on another listings website, Mike told the Gazette in a phone interview last week.
The 16-room Victorian house at 50 Burroughs St.—converted into a bed and breakfast by Elliott and his partner Daryl Bichel—seemed to fit the bill.
“In the confusion of it all, I assumed it was a legit listing,” Mike, who asked that his last name be withheld, told the Gazette.
Mike’s was one of four cases of Taylor House customers being duped by a Craigslist on-line solicitation that Elliott has heard about, he told the Gazette. The ad is a scam, Elliott said.
The fraudulent ads used pictures and text from the Taylor House web site, Elliott said. “What was really stupid was they used the name of the bed and breakfast,” allowing reservation-makers the opportunity to call and confirm.
Elliot forwarded the Gazette copies of e-mail transcripts of two separate correspondences with the alleged scam artists—one initiated by Mike and one by a fried of Elliott’s also named David. Elliott’s friend requested a room for the weekend of April 16 to 18, when the Boston Marathon normally fills Boston area hotels to capacity, Elliott said.
In both cases, a person named Kelly Mashburn confirmed that reservations were available for the dates requested—and strongly urged payment via a Western Union money transfer.
“Western Union is the fattest, easiest and safest method of payment for all parties involved as payment can be confirmed immediately and your receipt and confirmation of reservation issued immediately,” the alleged scam artist’s boilerplate e-mail claims.
The e-mail discourages the use of PayPal’s secure on-line payment service. That method can “take up to two weeks for confirmation” because, Mashburn explains, he is leery of falling victim to a scam. “In the past, renter’s (sic) make (sic) bogus transfers…We have lost thousands of dollars in this process,” he says.
Mike told the Gazette he spoke to Mashburn by phone before wiring $650—a $300 deposit along with half of the weekly room rate— to a Western Union in New York City. He said he did not suspect anything was amiss until it was almost too late.
“I got duped by it and actually went and wired the Western Union money order,” he said. But, shortly after that, Mike said, his parents came over and, when he went to show them the ad for the room he had rented, it had been replaced by a message alerting Craigslist users that the ad was a scam.
“I went down to the Western Union at the convenience store on my street and got my money back,” he said. “If it had been an hour or two later, I would have lost $650.”
Mike said he has received harassing phone calls both from the upstate New York phone number Mashburn provided and from a phone number with a Nigerian exchange.
He said he is now blocking those calls, and that his son secured accommodations in person for the family’s visit to the area.
Gazette attempts to contact Mashburn via phone and e-mail were unsuccessful.
Elliott told the Gazette that the three other people he knows of who have come close to being duped by the scam have called to confirm their reservations before they made payments. One of those people ended up securing a legitimate reservation, he said.
He said he filed a police report with Boston Police. Police spokesperson Jill Flynn confirmed the details of the complaint, but was unable to provide an update on the progress of the case.
In its “scams” section, Craigslist explicitly recommends that people “deal locally with folks you can meet in person—follow this rule and avoid 99 percent of scam attempts on Craigslist.” It also admonishes users to, “Never wire funds via Western Union, Moneygram or any other wire service—anyone who asks you to do so is a scammer.”
The classifieds web site also recommends contacting the Federal Trade Commission and the Internet Criminal Complaint Center (IC3).
A spokesperson from the FTC told the Gazette the commission does not handle criminal complaints.
According to the Internet Criminal Complaint Center’s web site, it is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).
“As Internet crime complaints are reported online, the IC3 electronically compiles the data. Trained analysts review and research each complaint, disseminating information to the appropriate federal, state, local, or international law enforcement or regulatory agencies for criminal, civil, or administrative action, as appropriate,” the web site says.
Elliott told the Gazette he has repeatedly flagged the scam Craigslist ad for removal, but it periodically reappears. The Gazette was not able to find the ad when it searched the site last week.