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If it seems too good to be true, it probably is

A New Castle, Pennsylvania, man looking for a roommate got caught up in an Internet fraud scam and found himself in jail. The scam victim, Scott Tomasello, thought his roommate search was over when a woman calling herself Jessica responded to his online ad. She sent a check for even more than he had asked for, and told him simply to return any money that was not used for the first month's rent and deposit. Tomasello deposited the check and congratulated himself on being so lucky.

However, the woman called Tomasello to offer additional money. At this point the would-be landlord became suspicious. He took the second check to the bank and told them that he suspected it of being fraudulent. Like the first check, it was drawn on a New Jersey-based organization, The North American Olive Oil Association, but was mailed from West Virginia.

Things became stranger still when Tomasello was arrested for forgery, theft by deception and receiving stolen property. He could not post bail, so he spent a week in jail before his bail was reduced. All charges were dropped at a preliminary hearing a month after his arrest.

Tomasello is suing a New Castle police sergeant for false arrest, seeking unspecified damages.

The scam that turned his life upside down is a fairly common one. The scam artist sends the victim a false check in payment for something - rent, second hand furniture, gas money for a shared ride - almost anything will do. The check is larger than the amount owed, and the victim is asked to return whatever is left over. In this way the scam artist is able to turn non-existent money into real money.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-gazette, "Scam victim sues for false arrest," by Rich Lord, Apr. 5, 2012.

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