A New York Times best-selling author has trapped a scammer who swindled her out of thousands for her son’s accommodation into revealing his identity.
Jane Green, who has written 18 novels including The Beach House and The Sunshine Sisters, forked out nearly £4,000 in a desperate bid to secure a flat for her student son amid a “terrible” housing shortage in St Andrews.
The pair found a flat advertised on Facebook and spoke to a man purporting to be the landlord on the phone. He told them he had chosen them out of 54 applications and would require a deposit of £2,250 that day, which Jane paid via bank transfer.
The man, who called himself Cameron Scott, phoned back to say he had “made a mistake” and would require the first month’s rent in addition, bringing the total to nearly £4,000.
Jane, who lives in Connecticut in the U.S., sensed something was “not quite right” but was afraid they might not be able to find another flat for her son.
In a video posted online, she said: “He was so charming and so lovely. He told me how respectful my son was.
“He later told me he made a mistake and he needed the first month’s rent as well.
“Instead of stopping to do my research, I kicked it to my husband who said it seemed a bit weird. Instead of taking time slowing down, I said ‘can we just get this done?'”
Jane later began to do some research into the companies Cameron had said he was affiliated with and discovered that they did not exist.
In a bid to find out his true identity, Jane convinced him to video call with her ahead of transferring him a further £500 to make up the full sum for the months’ rent.
She then screenshotted images of his face and shared them with her 160,000 followers on social media.
The author said eight people got in touch to say they recognised him or had been scammed by him previously.
“I know there are others who have lost the same amount if not more. I hope he is feeling sick right now because we know who he is,” she said.
“I told him on the call ‘Look, here’s the deal; I understand the money is gone and that there is no flat. But how big is this scam?’. Then, the phone goes down.”
She added: “I hope we get some of the money back. The bigger concern for us is my son has nowhere to live this year so not sure what we’ll do about that.
“But the delight in this idiot picking up the video call – I shall enjoy that for the rest of my life.”
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has urged the public to be vigilant amid housing scams on social media platforms.
CTSI lead officer for scams doorstep crime and consumer vulnerability, Katherine Hart, said: “Opportunistic scammers relentlessly exploit individuals’ personal circumstances whenever a chance arises, which means anyone can fall victim to a scam.”
John Herriman, chief executive of CTSI, thanked Jane Green for coming forward to share her story in the hope that it prevents others from falling victim to the same unscrupulous scams.
He said: “Online scammers are very skilled at making their ruse seem real and playing to consumers needs. In this example, the scammer prayed on Jane’s desperation caused by needing to find accommodation for her son to rush her into making a decision.
“Key things to remember when looking for properties using online platforms are: review, research and never rush. CTSI urge online platforms to be hyper-vigilant to the presence of scammers on their sites and to pursue action swiftly to protect consumers when notified of these issues.
“As ever, we encourage consumers to remember that there nothing to be embarrassed about if they think they have been a victim of a scam. It’s important to report it as soon as possible so Trading Standards can provide you with the help and support that you need.
“Jane impressively managed to uncover the identity of her scammer by taking to social media to talk about her experience. It is important to share your experiences if you do fall victim to a scam. Silence only ever benefits the scammer.”
Tips for protecting yourself from scammers
· Always look at reviews, verified reviews are a good indicator of a reputable seller
· Do some research into the landlord/business before engaging with them
· Don’t be rushed into making a decision and handing over money
· Opt for using protected payment schemes such as credit cards, debit cards and the likes of PayPal, Klarna etc, which provide added protection and recourse to reclaim funds if something goes wrong
· If you are a victim of a scam on Facebook, make sure you report it to the platform as they have a responsibility to look into it”
To report scams, call Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 800 9060.