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May 9, 2013

Police warn about latest scam in area

CULLMAN — Multiple North Alabama residents have been scammed by a personal assistant want ad that has popped up on several websites in recent weeks.

Citizens have reported seeing the job on indeed.com and craigslist.com. requesting the need of a personal assistant, paying $750 per week. Austin Jolley, a 22-year-old from Cullman, said he inquired about the opportunity, only to realize it was a scam.

“I saw the job about three weeks ago on Craigslist to carry out duties as a personal assistant, paying bills and stuff like that for him,” Jolley said. “He said he was a real estate investor and we talked primarily through e-mail and text.”

Jolley said that the man, who called himself Martin Raphel, would give him instructions and expected him to follow through with them, including wiring checks to foreign bank accounts, which Jolley quickly denied Martin.

“He sent me a check for $1,850, told me to keep 10 percent for commission and told me to wire the rest to a man in China,” Jolley said. “He sent me another check and said to send it to the Philippines to the same man, and that’s when I knew it was a scam.”

After Jolley tried to cash the first check to receive the commission, the bank reported to him it was a fraudulent check.

“Martin told me he reviewed resumes and then selected me for the job,” Jolley said. “I’m pretty sure if he said that to me, he said that to anyone else that responded to the advertisement online. Because this was a scam I’ll still be looking for employment and lost two weeks of possibly already having a job. I don’t want anyone else to be scammed from this guy.”

Kelly Miller of Falkville reported the same issue after responding to the personal assistant ad, listed on indeed.com. Raphel also told Miller she had the job and began sending her checks, but she declined to wire or cash them. She reported that he began to call her at all hours of the night.

“I asked him to please stop contacting me and he responded ‘why,’” Miller said. “It was listed as a virtual personal assistant position in Arab, and as soon I received texts from him about depositing the checks, I knew it was fraudulent.”

Miller confirmed that the advertisement was also listed from Martin Raphel and provided the same contact number and e-mail address that Jolley listed. Jolley also reported the crime to Gene Bates with the Cullman City Police Department.

“If you receive a phone call and something doesn’t sound right, don’t assume it’s coming from the right place,” Bates said. “You can go on the Internet very easily and create a phone number or e-mail that will show up any way you want it to. Be cautious. If someone is trying to get your bank information over the phone or Internet, confirm it with your bank first. Always confirm who you’re communicating with before you get involved with them and give them your information.”

Police warn: If you have responded to this advertisement, please take caution.

‰ Lauren Estes can be reached at laurene@cullmantimes.com or 256-734-2131, ext. 270.

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