Suspect caught in Craigslist scam; Bakersfield victim out thousands of dollars

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Investigators say the man arrested in a suspected Craigslist scam passed himself off as a female foreign exchange student from Vietnam, and that he passed a forged check that looked like it came from California State University, Bakersfield.

The victim said she lost thousands of dollars.

"The suspect was, in fact, an official California State University, Bakersfield student," police spokeswoman Michaela Beard said Tuesday.

That suspect has been identified as 28-year-old Tope Onosohare Jelugbo, whom police describe as a black man.

Investigators also described the case as "significant."

Kathy Rowland said she lost a significant amount of money in the scam.

"I feel like I've been caught between the cracks here, and I'm left holding the bag," Rowland told Eyewitness News, saying she's out $2,745.

Rowland has a home near the CSUB campus, and she's rented out a room to a student before. In late May, she spotted an ad on Craigslist, where a student from Vietnam was looking for a room to rent.

"They could pay $545 for the room," Rowland said. "So, I answered it, and it was an Asian student. It was 'supposed' to be an Asian student."

The student said she only had a large check with a lump sum to pay for the room, Rowland explained. The student said the check would be mailed to Rowland, and she asked the prospective landlady to keep enough to cover the room costs, and to send back the rest by MoneyGram. The student said she needed the other funds to cover expenses.

Rowland said the check was from CSUB, and she deposited it at her bank's ATM.

"The check cleared, and I sent them the remainder of the money," she said. Rowland said the student then asked for a second amount of money back, claiming "unexpected" expenses, and Rowland sent a second MoneyGram, figuring she was still not into any of her own money.

But, Rowland got suspicious when she spotted the student's ad still on Craigslist, and contacted her bank.

"I had to alert them that I was questioning the check," she said. "They had to alert their fraud department."

That's when Rowland also went to Bakersfield police, and she said she contacted CSUB and was told they were investigating a fraud case.

From Bakersfield police, Beard said officers managed to track down the suspect with surveillance video.

"The surveillance video was from a check-cashing location," she explained.

Beard said that led investigators to a possible suspect and a location in the 4400 block of Belle Terrace, where they found "evidence that linked the suspect to the crime."

Jelugbo now faces charges of forgery, identity theft, using a computer to commit a crime, business burglary and forging checks. Beard couldn't give details on how the suspect may have forged a check that appears to be from CSUB.

A spokeswoman at the university referred all questions on the case back to Bakersfield police, and that spokeswoman couldn't yet provide any information about Jelugbo being a student at CSUB.

Rowland is frustrated at the response from the university, saying she'd tried to get information about this possible foreign-exchange student. She's also frustrated by the response from her bank, Wells Fargo.

"If you deposit a check and it clears, you're assuming that check is good," Rowland said.

Eyewitness News contacted her bank.

"Advance fee scams are not unique to Wells Fargo," spokeswoman Julie Campbell responded by email. "Be suspicious of any scheme where you're asked to pay money."

Campbell's message said scammers often create counterfeit checks that look like they come from large institutions.

"Consumers who are concerned about the check they have in hand should contact the bank where the check was issued to verify it is authentic and legitimate," Wells Fargo also advised. "You should make sure the check funds have been deposited into their account before transferring funds out of the account."

Police said the investigation of the case took a month, and it's still underway. They ask anyone with information to call the department at (661) 327-111.

"It's a scam, and it's happened here locally," Beard said.

It's believed there's only one victim in Bakersfield, "But we believe there are victims throughout the United States who've been victims of this scam."