(Editor’s Note: While it may sound as if only Kentucky newspapers were targeted by the scam artist, the ad was actually sent to newspapers in numerous states. Part of your/our responsibility as an industry is to protect consumers as much as possible. We keep reminding you about Going Out of Business Sales, etc, and I’ve seen many of those this year without the required “Permit Number” included. Classified ads are easy target for scammers so make your staff pay extra attention to them and these kinds of stories won’t be written.)
A scam alert was issued by Attorney General Andy Beshear on November 1 to warn Kentuckians about fraudulent advertisements placed in the classified section of local Kentucky newspapers and online.
Beshear said Kentuckains in several counties including Bath, Barren, Franklin and Jefferson have reported replying to classified ads for a deeply discounted John Deere tractor, Toyota or Chevrolet pickup truck that turned out to be a scam.
The complainants state that the classified ad appears normal at first and includes a price for the item and a contact phone number. Once an interested buyer places a call, however, they do not speak with anyone, but rather start receiving text messages or emails from a so-called Air Force Sergeant “Molly Carter” stationed at Cavalier AFB in North Dakota.
“Carter” claims she is selling the item at a deep discount because it belonged to her late husband, and she is leaving soon for an overseas deployment and cannot afford to keep it. “Carter” even offers to send detailed photos of the items and guarantees delivery once she receives payment.
“This scammer tells one of the cruelest stories we have heard,” Beshear said. “They lie about the death of a spouse and service to our county in order to profit off hardworking Kentucky families. While my office is working to track down this con artist, I want Kentuckians to be aware and avoid falling victim to this woeful scheme.”
Beshear’s office and the Kentucky Press Association (KPA) are working together to ensure all Kentucky newspapers are constantly on the alert for any kind of advertising that could be fraudulent and detrimental to their readers.
“We appreciate the Attorney General’s Office for being responsive to our inquiries about questionable ads,” said David T. Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Press Association. “This is a constant concern of Kentucky newspapers and we will continue doing all that we can to protect Kentucky consumers. KPA notifies all newspapers when it is alerted to a scam ad being circulated widely, even in other states, and our Kentucky newspapers notify us when they receive a fraudulent ad. Not every single ad can be stopped, but for the ones that do end up being published there are perhaps a hundred that were caught before publication and thrown away.”
Beshear said his office has also verified with the Cavalier Air Force Base that a “Sergeant Molly Carter” is not a member of its installation. The military base also confirmed that it has received multiple complaints from across the country reporting the same scheme.
Beshear said while the current scam reports identify the name “Sergeant Molly Carter,” scammers constantly take on new identities and develop new plots, which is why verifying online private sellers is always tricky.
To help Kentuckians avoid falling victim to this type of scam, the Office of the Attorney General offers these initial tips:
Be wary of too-good-to-be-true prices
If a price of a product seems too good to be true, it probably is. Compare prices of identical goods online in order to see if you are getting a good deal verses being duped. For vehicle sales, request copies of titles and local tax receipts to help confirm the seller and vehicle’s legitimacy, and obtain the VIN number and run a vehicle history report.
Research the seller and attempt to view the product in person
Research the seller online and reject high-pressure sales tactics. Ask the seller if they are willing to meet you in a safe location to view the product in person – if they are unwilling, this is a warning sign that it could be a scam.
Only use verified methods of payment
Never wire money, use gift cards or reloadable cards, reputable sellers and companies do not use these methods of payment. You may also verify with the sales website if you are unsure of whether to proceed with the transaction.
Kentuckians who want assistance verifying a scam or reporting a scam can contact the Office of the Attorney General at 888-432-9257 or file a consumer complaint online.
To stay up to date on new and trending scams Kentuckians should sign up to receive Scam Alerts from the Office of the Attorney General. To enroll, text the words KYOAG Scam to GOV311 (468311), or enroll online at ag.ky.gov/scams and select text message or email alert.