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What a shock: Nigerian offer too good to be true

Sandra Schell has never been to Nigeria but she recently came perilously close to having an unwanted connection with the African nation known as a hotbed for scams.

The Medford real estate agent was thrown for a loop after receiving six phone calls from people interested in a Craigslist ad showing one of her listings being available for rent at a dirt-cheap price.

The problem was that the Central Point property has a potential buyer on tap.

"I had no idea what was happening at first," Schell said. "I kept getting calls from people who had driven out to the property and saw that there were still people living at the house."

The interested renters saw Schell's real estate sign posted in the yard and gave her a call. That proved to be a good idea, because Schell quickly set them straight.

The ad offered the home for $600 a month with an unbelievably low $200 deposit that was to be sent to a self-described missionary named "Colin Wilson."

Schell was able to get the ad's Craigslist code and reported the scam to the Internet-based classified ad provider. She was not aware whether anyone fell for the scam, and police said they have not received any reports from scam victims.

Schell performed some informal detective work after getting the scammer's phone number from one of the potential victims. They tracked the number to Nigeria.

"We knew immediately that this was a scam," Schell said. "In 12 years in the real estate business I've never encountered something like this."

Those who contacted "Mr. Wilson" were told a whopper of a story, Schell said.

"Wilson" told them he was a West African missionary desperately needing someone to rent his Central Point home, and the $200 deposit money would go to good use.

These so-called Nigerian scams often involve victims being asked to send an advance payment before receiving a good deal on real estate, a car or other high-end items.

Medford police Deputy Chief Tim George laughed at this proposition, saying the scams are so numerous that most law enforcement agencies cannot keep track of how many occur in their areas.

"There's a sucker born every day, and a scam born every minute," George said. "The way to protect yourself from these scams is to not be lazy."

George advises anyone getting an offer via the Internet or snail mail that seems too good to be true to ignore it.

Though most people shrug off the bogus offers, the scammers must make enough money to perpetuate them by the millions every year, George said.

Oregon's most famous Nigerian scam victim was a Sweet Home woman who sent $400,000 in "fees" to a con artist claiming she would receive a large inheritance from a long-lost relative, according to the Associated Press.

"At least check and see if there is any sort of legal documentation or a real person to speak with," George said. "Always be sure to speak with someone before sending money anywhere."

The potential victims in Schell's case did call "Wilson," but they are still paying a price.

"He kept calling them over and over to ask if they will send the money," Schell said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.