Beware of Craigslist rental scams

By Diana Dietz | Dec. 5, 2011 | 3 min. read

PAR uncovered a story last year about a trend in real estate as Craigslist scams began occurring throughout the country. It appears to be happening again.

Last week, police in Salem, Massachusetts issued warrants for the arrest of a man in connection with several Craigslist scams. The unidentified man was under investigation for taking money from several victims who responded to an ad for an apartment rental. Victims reportedly lost several thousands of dollars.

This report is just one of several in the recent development of Craigslist realty hoaxes where scammers create phony ads involving the sale or rental of homes.

“I have had people use my photos for rentals and then re-post the listing asking for the first and last month at a much lower rent,” said Realtor® Nick Vandekar of Devon, PA.

A typical scam is committed when someone steals a picture of a home for sale from realty websites, then lists the house using those photos on Craigslist as a house for rent. The scammer makes up a story about being out of the country and requests the renter wire funds via a service.

Realtor® Courtney Franklin of Blue Bell, PA has had similar experiences. “We’ve had several short sale properties skimmed and re-posted as rentals on Craigslist,” he said.  “Properties listed as short sale or bank owned seem to increase the likelihood of this occurring.”

Franklin says a good indication that a posting may be a scam is the rental is listed well below area market rents.  Another indicator is when the property is posted as for “sale by owner” with nothing but an e-mail address for contact information.

“There are a lot of people looking for rentals because they can’t afford to buy,” he said. “Unfortunately, a lot of scammers try and take advantage of that.”

Franklin recommends branding photos of property listings to make them harder to copy. “Don’t just put photos on the Internet,” he said. “Put your logo on the pictures or try to somehow make them less usable.”

Craigslist makes it a point to warn consumers of potential scams and offers guides to recognizing them.

Potential warning signs of scams include:

  • Inquiry from someone far away, often in another country.
  • The renter requests Western Union, Money Gram, cashier’s check, money order, shipping, escrow service or a “guarantee.”
  • Inability or refusal to meet face-to-face before completing the transaction.

Anyone suspecting a rental post is part of a scam can contact Craigslist directly or notify the U.S. Federal Internet Fraud Complaint Center. Anyone defrauded by someone they met in person is encouraged to contact their local police department.

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