An Apple MacBook Pro for $600, an iPhone 4G for $350 and a Nikon D2X camera, listed for $5,999 new on Amazon.com, are just three of the dozens of electronic consumer goods offered at absurd prices by a full-page advertisement that has run weekly since July 22 in The Tico Times.
But buyer beware: The deals offered in the ad are likely a scam, the online daily AM Costa Rica reported this week. “Expats and subscribers elsewhere probably do not know that a full-page Tico Times newspaper ad marketing cell telephones and other electronic devices was placed by Nigerians who have a history of scams,” the story said.
The first result of a simple Google search of the telephone number listed on the ad links to a 1996 posting by anti-fraud site joewein.de LLC, which associates the number with a series of “419” scams committed that year. According to the site, in a 419 scam, or advanced fee scam, targets are notified via email that they’ve won a lottery. They are then asked for advance fees to process the fake winnings. Thieves either collect the money from unsuspecting victims or use their credit card numbers to commit other acts of fraud. There are other variations of the scam, and the number 419 is derived from a section of Nigeria’s criminal code that prosecuted such offenses. Many advanced-fee crimes have links to West Africa.
“The general rule of thumb is, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” joewein.de LLC warns.
The company name listed in the Tico Times ad is The Mobile Phone Exchange Limited, which is similar to a legitimate U.K.-based company formed in 2005 called Mobile Phone Xchange (www.mobilephonexchange.co.uk), which offers cellphone recycling and buyback services. While the ad lists a company registration number and U.K. address, it does not provide a website address.
It does provide two contact email addresses: one for a “sale rep” (sic) at [email protected], and one for “Mr. Billy Kasht,” who does business at [email protected]. Billy Kasht is the name used by the person who purchased a series of Tico Times ads.
Asked to comment on the AM Costa Rica story, Kasht said via email that, “This is 100% blackmail [sic] we are puting [sic] the newspaper into to [sic] court from tomorrow and we have forward [sic] the details to company [sic] lawyer. They contact [sic] us to place advert for us and we ask [sic] how did they get our information. Waiting [sic] your reply asap.”
A Google search turns up a LinkedIn page with a Billy Kasht in Guildford, U.K., who, according to the page, works in marketing and advertising at ocean 17 limited. Ocean 17 Limited and Billy Kasht have posted multiple classified job listings in the U.K., saying the company is looking for “18-50 guys and girls” for various positions at an unlisted company. The employer in many of them is Billy Kasht, at 43 Marthindale Road in Woking City, U.K. The address listed for “The Mobile Phone Exchange Limited,” the company mentioned in the Tico Times ad, is in Manchester.
Also, according to joewein.de LLC, the number listed in the ad is a U.K. number that redirects calls to a mobile phone in another country.
Scams linked to Nigeria and other West African countries date back to the 1970s and 80’s. Before the Internet and email, Nigerian scammers sent letters often involving fake millionaires seeking to move money out of the country. Today, dozens of modern scams exist with every conceivable lure used to part the unsuspecting from their money, leading CNN to label scamsters the “Yahoo Millionaires,” a term widely used in Nigeria.
Some tipoffs include: anonymous communication, bad English, Web-based email, telephone relay services, non-existent goods and services and fake job offers, among many, many others.
“It appears The Tico Times may have fallen victim to an unsavory ad offering deals that are too good to be true,” said Tico Times Associate Publisher Abby Daniell. “While it is difficult to screen every ad, we apologize to readers who may have responded to the ad.”