Springfield Real Estate News


Renters Beware – Craigslist Scammers are on the Prowl!

By Kim Gaisford

Identity theft is rampant, and apparently not even those searching for rental property are immune. I recently learned that some of the scams that have been occurring nationwide are now happening right here in Springfield. Scam artists are using actual real estate listings and then passing themselves off as the landlord through postings on Craigslist, a popular website that offers free classified advertising, in an effort to claim deposits and perhaps even capture personal information for identity theft from unsuspecting renters. Some local Realtors are currently having their “For Sale” listings, complete with their verbiage and photos, advertised as rental houses on Craigslist.

Sometimes people who respond to the ads are told for example, the owner is out of the country and they can send money to XYZ, in exchange for a lease and the keys. And sometimes they will be asked to fill out an online application that asks for their personal information, including their social security number, meaning they are being targeted for identity theft.

From New York to Florida to Kentucky to Washington State, similar scams are stealing people’s identity, money and more. A very real threat though that is currently crossing the nation has origins in Nigeria, and in a recent press release, the FBI is urging homeowners and/or prospective renters to be very cautious.

Homeowners list their homes for sale with real estate agents, who will list the homes for sale in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and also with public search websites, which allow individuals to query homes for sale via the Internet. Nigerian scammers find homes listed for sale on these public search sites, copy the pictures and listings verbatim, and then post the information onto Craigslist under available housing rentals.

After the posting is listed, unsuspecting individuals contact the poster, who is Nigerian, for more information on the “rental." The Nigerian scammer will state that they had to leave the country very quickly to do missionary or contract work in Africa and were unable to rent their house before leaving, therefore they have to take care of this remotely. The “homeowner” sends the prospective renter an application and tells them to send them first and last month’s rent to the Nigerian scammer via Western Union. The prospective renter is further told if they “qualify,” they will send them the keys for their house. Once the money is wired to the scammer, they show up at the house, see the home is actually for sale, are unable to access the property, and their money is gone.

You know the old saying, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and that is definitely the case with these scams. Houses targeted and listed in this way sound unbelievable when amenities, location and cost are factored in. If it is a house in say a $1,000 a month rental area and it is advertised on Craigslist for $600-700, look at it closely.

Consumer awareness is key in these situations. Craigslist has some suggestions posted on their website, http://www.craigslist.org/about/scams, and suggests many ways that people can sidestep would-be scammers by following common-sense rules, including: DEAL LOCALLY WITH FOLKS YOU CAN MEET IN PERSON - follow this one simple rule and you will avoid 99% of the scam attempts on Craigslist. NEVER GIVE OUT FINANCIAL INFORMATION (bank account number, social security number, eBay/PayPal info, etc.)

When a scam or suspected fraud or scam has occurred, Craigslist suggests notifying:

    * FTC toll free hotline: 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357)

    * FTC online complaint form

    * Internet Fraud Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov)

    * Software Piracy (http://www.siia.net/piracy/report.asp)

    * Non-emergency number for your local police department.

If it is suspected that an item posted on Craigslist may be part of a scam, people are urged to email the details to abuse@craigslist.org, including the URL (or 10-digit post ID number) in the message.

While none of the Team 24-7 listings have been targeted by scammers – yet – we are staying vigilant. After reading the reports and hearing the stories of those who have been taken, Team 24-7’s administrative assistant, Ashley Gaisford, is combing Craigslist each week to make sure that our listings are not being misused.

Bottom line, you really can’t be too careful when it comes to giving out personal information to an unauthorized person on the Internet. Before you would fill out an application or hand over money for any type of rental property, make sure it is an individual you can meet, that will take you through the property, answer questions and so on. Get a business card and contact information, make sure they are local and proceed from there.


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