A Norcross man was sentenced to 21 months in prison Wednesday for his participation in a “Craigslist car” scheme that swindled buyers out of thousands of dollars, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio.
The court found that Luis Caseres-Duarte, 26, of Norcross, Ga., was part of an international conspiracy that placed ads on Craigslist and other websites to sell vehicles at low prices, took the money and never provided the cars.
The vehicles were listed under fake names and through fake businesses. The buyers of the vehicles were instructed to send money to a broker.
The broker, such as Caseres-Duarte, would use fraudulent documents to withdraw the funds. The money would be split among members, with no vehicles ever provided.
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Police identified Caseres-Duarte as a player in the scheme during a traffic stop in West Chester, Ohio. He had just obtained one of the wire payments at a Walmart, police said. They recovered more than $2,000 in cash on his person and found text messages on his phone indicating transactions worth more than $20,000.
Investigators discovered more than $33,000 in cash in hotel rooms used by Caseres-Duarte in Cincinnati and documents noting wires for more than $160,000 to conspirators in Hungary.
Caseres-Duarte pleaded guilty in March to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. In addition to his jail time, he was ordered to serve 50 hours of community service, serve three years of supervised release, and pay more than $200,000 in restitution to the buyer victims of the scheme.
A co-defendent, Javier Martinez-Melo, faced similar charges in Ohio and Tennessee. In May, he was sentenced to 57 months in prison.
The Craigslist website provides the following advice on identifying and avoiding scams.
- Deal locally, face-to-face —follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts. Do not extend payment to anyone you have not met in person.
- Beware offers involving shipping - deal with locals you can meet in person.
- Never wire funds (e.g. Western Union) - anyone who asks you to is a scammer.
- Don't accept cashier/certified checks or money orders - banks cash fakes, then hold you responsible.
- Transactions are between users only, no third party provides a "guarantee".
- Never give out financial info (bank account, social security, paypal account, etc).
- Do not rent or purchase sight-unseen—that amazing "deal" may not exist.
- Refuse background/credit checks until you have met landlord/employer in person.
Scott Berson: 706-571-8578, @ScottBersonLE