A local example of ‘buyers beware’

Published 12:14 am Saturday, February 20, 2010

While a lot of this business is conducted face-to-face, just as much of it is not.

Interviews are conducted over the phone or, in rare cases, via email.

Customers fax in ad copy and readers fax calendar announcements.

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People mail in church announcements or wedding and engagement notices and, on occasion, we’ll find an envelope tucked under the door overnight.

The bulk of our inbound calls are for classified ad placement. These calls come in from all over the Black Belt, so many people choose not to make the drive to Demopolis.

Recently, a person emailed a classified advertisement to the Times. The ad was not overtly alarming and we gladly published it. It read: “Free to good home,2 English Bulldog Babies for adoption, kindly contact me at: fergusonsmith01@gmail.com.

Bernice McAlpine-Smith, our classified manager, corresponded with the person via email to ensure the ad published accurately and, last weekend, it ran in the Demopolis Times.

Tuesday, we received a call from a reader who responded to the ad. The caller said it didn’t take long for “Ferguson Smith” to ask for money to cover some expenses tied to the formerly free bulldogs.

This ad was a scam and we pulled it immediately from future publications.

We receive upwards of 10 emails a week similar to the one above and after some brief investigation, we determine that the risk of these placements bilking our readers out of their hard-earned money is too high and we delete them.

This one just happened to pass that screening process.

My thanks to the person who called Tuesday to alert us.

Tuesday afternoon, once we’d deleted the ad from future publication, we took a look at our policy regarding similar submissions to see where this one failed and took appropriate action. However, as we amend these policies to catch the bulk of fraudulent ad placements, the scammers will find new and creative ways to sneak one past.

As I recall, this is only the second time an ad like this had actually made it to publication in the past year and a half.

We work hard here to protect our readers from fraud, specifically on our classified pages.

On the average day, 100 percent of our classified and display ads are placed by local and honest people looking to sell quality, new or used household items or services.

However, should you respond to an ad and have reason to suspect that the person on the other end is trying to scam you, please call our office immediately.

We will investigate the placement to the fullest and work to correct the situation – should it be warranted – before the next publication.

Please feel free to shop our classified pages in full confidence. After all, that is the community’s market place.

Jason Cannon is publisher of the Demopolis Times.