Too-good-to-be-true rentals featured on Craigslist are usually j
By Connie Thompson
Story Published: Aug 26, 2008 at 7:15 PM PDT
Here's a word of warning for anyone looking to rent a house or apartment: some of the ads you see may be planted by scammers.
The houses are real, but the rest is smoke and mirrors.
As high as rent is getting around Seattle, when you see a nice place that's reasonable, you have to jump on it. Just make sure the person you're dealing with is really the landlord. It could be slick trick in the name of God.
A picture of a 2,400-square foot home in the sought-after Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle was posted on Craigslist.
The 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom house included scenic views, beautiful yard and all appliances at a monthly rent of just $1,100.
"Anybody can go onto Craigslist and you can copy pictures," said Rosie Gray of Windermere Property Management.
"This is my listing."
Scammers went online and lifted Gray's ad, which had only been on the Internet for a week.
"These people coming on, stealing our verbiage, stealing our pictures," said Gray.
The imposters pose as missionaries or other devout Christians forced to transfer to West Africa. They say they had to leave on short notice and as a result, have to handle the rental themselves, long distance. They're looking for an honest tenant who they can trust to take care of their home.
The scammer using the name "Richard Sunny" hijacked Gray's ad, which posted rent as $3295 a month.
"We get hundred of calls because of this. And then we have to explain that it's a scammer," said Gray.
And here's the real scam. You fill out the rental application which the scammer sends by e-mail. The phony landlord accepts your application, then urges you send the first month's rent as a deposit to secure the deal. Once he gets your deposit, he'll send you the keys, he says. But the keys, of course, never come.
"It's really bad. And it's happening across the whole nation," Gray said.
Traci Lockhart is the actual owner of the Magnolia home. She hired Windermere to find a tenant.
"Oh, I couldn't believe how somebody could go take the pictures off the Internet, post 'em and pretty much do a duplicate ad with complete fabrication," said Lockhart, who laughed at the thought of leasing her home for a third of its market value.
As soon as Gray alerted Craigslist, the company flagged the ad as a scam.
Craigslist has scam alerts on its Web site, warning renters not to respond to ads requesting wire transfers as a deposit.
If you're looking for a rental, avoid ads where the landlord claims to be in another country, typically Africa, and gives no address or phone number.
Never give your personal information to anyone who only provides an e-mail address.
Pay close attention to the language in the so-called landlords email. Look for improper use of words, and be weary of any references to religion. Scammers use Christianity and faith as a popular way to lower your guard.
Take the time to go by the home or apartment and check for signs that give a local phone number. One call to that number should put you in touch with the legitimate landlord or agent.
Go online and cross-check the address to see if it comes up under another Web site.
Also be aware that local scammers are posing as landlords after they manage to gain access to apartment and house keys. This is a growing problem with the foreclosure crisis. Contact the county tax assessors office and confirm the status of the property. They'll know if a foreclosure is pending.
Bottom line: Never send money until you can confirm the landlord is who they say they are. Once you send your money, there's little chance you'll ever get it back.