By Tim McNicholas


CHICAGO (CBS) — It was an unwelcome holiday surprise: a Crestwood man had a scammer send him a fake check for thousands of dollars–only to try to get him to send thousands of real dollars back.

But he caught on and called CBS 2’s Morning Insiders, who discovered that thieves are using new methods to pull their old tricks.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Tim McNicholas has the story.

George Rabiela is looking for a roommate, so he took his search online and advertised the room on Craigslist. Within days, he got a text.

“Hi, is the room posted on Craigslist still available for rent?” the text said. “Please text me. Don’t call because I’m deaf.”

The man even sent Rabiela some money in advance, or so he thought.

He mailed him what looked like a real check for $4800 dollars, and when Rabiela took it to BMO Harris the bank didn’t immediately raise any red flags.

“He told me he was going to need help for me to receive this car that his dad bought him,” Rabiela said.

The prospective “roommate” asked Rabiela to send a supposed car dealer thousands of real dollars through Zelle, even providing a number and email for the Zelle transfer.

“He’s leading me on,” Rabiela said.

So the CBS 2 Morning Insiders got involved and started texting the man, who goes by Choi. A reporter told “Choi” that he was a friend of Rabiela’s and he’d be handling the transaction.

RELATED: Don’t Fall For Fake Checks And The Bogus Companies Behind Them

As the days went by and no one had sent the money, “Choi” grew anxious.

“ARE YOU THERE TIM ??” he texted on Nov. 19th.

The next day?

“Good morning Tim. How was your night? Why did you keep silent to me since yesterday concerning the dealer fund you promise to send them yesterday ??”

On Saturday, Nov. 23: “GOOD MORNING ?”

In the meantime, we called the real company listed on the fake check and an employee told us that over the course of a week, they’d gotten about 20 phone calls related to other fake checks that went out.

The Georgia-based business does not know why the scammers put their name on the check.

“Counterfeit check scams are very common,” said Todd Kossow, Midwest region Director of the Federal Trade Commission.

Kossow explained how the check to Rabiela is an old trick with a new twist.

For years, scammers have mailed people fake checks and asked them to buy gift cards then give the scammer the pin for apparent “shopping surveys.”

Kossow said it’s becoming more common for scammers to ask people to send money through fast, easy payment services like Venmo or Zelle.

“When even Zelle’s own website says, ‘don’t use this other than with family and friends,'” Kossow said.

Back to the texts from Choi, the Morning Insiders reporter said he’d rather give the dealer the money in person.

“Choi” stopped responding shortly after that and would not pick up the phone. He also didn’t respond when the reporter revealed his true identity and asked the scammer why he is taking advantage of people.

Rabiela said he told his bank and Crestwood police about the scam.

“Nail him. Find out where it’s going to and what account it’s going to,” Rabiela said. “I’m sure they have ways to find that out.”

If you’re looking for a room in Crestwood, Rabiela’s is still open. Real rent checks only, please.

Tim McNicholas