FORT MYERS, Fla. - An Internet savvy Seattle woman who fell for a sophisticated PayPal scam with ties to Fort Myers is getting her laptop back thanks to Fox 4.
Michelle Linafelter contacted us after she fell victim to what's called the "PayPal scam." After posting her Macbook Pro on Craigslist, and mailing it to an address in Fort Myers, she realized there was never any money deposited into her PayPal account.
So Fox 4 stepped in and tracked her laptop down.
"Hi are you [name withheld]?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.
"Yeah," said the woman who answered the door. "But take the camera out of my face."
Our search took us to an apartment complex on Winkler Avenue.
"Did you get a Macbook Pro sent to this address?," asked Grant.
"A what?," the woman said.
"A Macbook Pro?," asked Grant.
"No," said the woman.
But Linafelter showed us post office records showing the laptop was delivered on Aug. 29 and the woman who answered the door signed for it.
We spoke with Linafelter via Skype.
"I really feel pretty foolish now," said Linafelter. "I didn't think I would ever fall for one of these scams."
After posting the Craigslist ad, she says a Fort Myers "grandfather" contacted her and offered $650 for the laptop with shipping.
It was the highest bid.
"He wanted to buy it for his grandson for a birthday present," said Linafelter. "He asked me to ship it right away to his grandson. He was in a real hurry to get it to him within a day or two."
After agreeing on the price, Linafelter received a bogus email appearing to come from PayPal saying the $650 was being credited to her account "immediately."
"I've done a lot of transactions through PayPal," said Linafelter. "So I thought that was a pretty safe bet."
PayPal told her the emails were not sent by their company and Linafelter thought her laptop was lost.
The person who signed for the laptop answered the door Tuesday. We showed her the signature.
"Is that your signature?," asked Grant.
"Yes," the woman said. "Can you get this camera out of my face?"
The woman called Fort Myers police. Off camera, she says she didn't know what she was signing for. She says she was accepting packages for a friend she met on Facebook who lives in Malaysia.
According to her, the man wanted her to ship the boxes back to him but she didn't have the money to do that.
"A lot of the main suspects or perpetrators," said Det. Sgt. Brian O'Reilly with the Fort Myers Police Department, "they use middle-people, middle-men, so they keep their hands clean."
The woman showed us the inside of the box where we saw Linafelter's Macbook Pro, her return address and the distinct bright blue laptop from the Craigslist pictures.
Police seized the laptop and are now investigating.
PayPal scams are common across the country. If the scammer really is overseas, O'Reilly says prosecution would be next to impossible.
"Of course we would all like the person responsible to be prosecuted and put in jail or prison," said O'Reilly. "However, it's very difficult when you have scams that are not only cross state-line but also national boundaries and foreign countries."
"The main protection you have here," said O'Reilly, "is common sense."
Like selling locally.
Police say if everything checks out Linafelter will get her laptop back in a few weeks.
"That's fabulous," said Linafelter. "I am just so grateful for your help."
She still plans to sell the computer. But she says she won't make the same mistake next time.
"I think when I sell it this time it's going to be a local transaction only," said Linafelter. "And I want to see the cash in hand."
In Florida being in possession of stolen property is not a crime, you have to prove the person stole it, according to O'Reilly.
Detectives plan to go through computer logs and promise to conduct a full and thorough investigation to find out what happened.
- Use caution when contacted by people that you don’t know, asking you to engage in a transaction that will not be protected by PayPal Buyer Protection.
- Find out more about the person you are transacting with by e-mailing them, using eBay’s feedback system, or calling them on the phone to check the validity of their requests.
- Be highly suspicious of anyone asking you to use Western Union or other wire services to make cash transactions.
- Be suspicious of deals that seem too good to be true – they usually are.
- When in doubt about the safety of a transaction, always contact PayPal first via phone, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @AskPayPal.