By NICHOLAS KUSNETZ
At the end of February, Edwin Tenorio, an unemployed construction worker, applied for a job on Craigslist that he found through Arriba Juntos.
It sounded great: The employer, identified only by the email email@example.com, offered work driving people from the airport for $80 an hour with part of the pay up-front.
Then one Kholed Naer sent $1,700 to Tenorio in two money orders from Los Angeles on March 4th, telling Tenorio to take $500 as partial pay. The remaining $1200, the instructions said, should be mailed to a third party.
After getting confirmation from the cashier at his local Wells Fargo that the money orders were good, Tenorio cashed them, keeping $500 for himself and wiring the rest to Jarrick Zoumah in St. Louis, supposedly a tenant in an apartment owned by the employer.
When Tenorio’s wife went to cash a check last weekend, the bank told her she owed them $1,700. While the money orders may have appeared legitimate, as the cashier confirmed, it can take days before the bank knows if there is actually money behind them. The site 800notes.com shows complaints of a similar scam using a series of names, including Jarrick Zoumah.
Craigslist has a page intended to help users protect themselves from scams that warns of fake money orders. The site does help police track down scammers after they strike, said Craig Newmark, who started Craigslist, but it doesn’t do much enforcement itself.
“For the most part our site’s self-policing, by means of flagging for removal and some warnings which turn out to be very effective,” Newmark wrote in an email response.
Tenorio said he was desperate for work, after four months of joblessness, and unaware of the dangers associated with money orders.
“It’s my fault for not knowing that you can cancel money orders,” he said in Spanish. “But it’s also the bank’s fault because they told me the check was good.”
Tenorio reported the incident to the police and is hoping to find a lawyer who will work pro-bono and maybe get the bank to return his money. The police said there is little they can do in this situation and that he needs to work it out with the bank. Scams like this one are reported daily, said Marty Dito, an inspector with the San Francisco Police Department’s fraud unit.
“It’s that old thing, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is,” Dito said. The police can forward the information to local or federal authorities if they can find where the money order was cashed, but that’s the extent of their jurisdiction, Dito said.
That help is of little consolation to Tenorio, who had to borrow money from family members to pay back Wells Fargo.
“The bank tells me it’s my problem and they can’t help me, but I don’t understand why,” he said.
Wells Fargo said the customer takes responsibility for the check once he cashes it in his own account, a fact confirmed by the Comptroller of the Currency, an office of the Treasury that regulates national banks.