RENTER BEWARE: Scammers target local property on Craigslist

Published 6:44 pm Thursday, August 9, 2018

When Sherry Oden-Fox and her husband saw the 1,800-square-foot, three-bedroom Washington home listed for rent on Craigslist for $800, it seemed too good to be true. It turned out that it was.

After emailing the poster, Oden-Fox said they received a reply from a man going by the name of Marvin David. The scammer explained that he and his wife were planning to go work at a Sudanese mission in Nevada for the next three years and needed to rent out the home.

With a promise to send the keys to the home in the mail, David asked the couple for a deposit and first month’s rent, an amount totaling $1,600. Fortunately, Oden-Fox and her husband never sent any money. Instead, they drove out to the property to check it out in person, Oden-Fox said.

When they saw a for sale sign in the yard, Oden-Fox said they asked a neighbor about the house and were told that it was not for rent. Once the neighbor called the homeowner, it soon became apparent that the couple had been targeted by a scam.

“Luckily no money had exchanged hands,” Oden-Fox said.

For the property owner, Ronnie Woolard, the fact that his house had been fraudulently listed as a rental came as an upsetting surprise.

“I don’t know how to solve it or what to do about it,” Woolard said. “I wish it didn’t happen.”

While the property was never for rent, it is listed for sale by a local real estate agency. Like many companies, local agencies sometimes list properties on websites such as Zillow and Trullio, sites that have a nationwide reach and can help facilitate home sales.

According to information provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, online real estate sites such as these can also be a treasure trove for scammers, because scammers can lift pictures of the home, posting the details of the listings verbatim on sites such as Craigslist.

The FBI offers a number of tips to protect one’s self from scams:

  • Only deal with landlords or renters who are local;
  • Be suspicious if you’re asked to only use a wire transfer service;
  • Beware of e-mail correspondence from the “landlord” that’s written in poor or broken English;
  • Research the average rental rates in that area and be suspicious if the rate is significantly lower;
  • Don’t give out personal information, like social security, bank account, or credit card numbers;

For local law enforcement, tracing scams like this is practically impossible, as many originate in distant parts of the country or outside of the United States. Such was the situation for Oden-Fox and her husband when they called the Washington Police Department. Washington Police and Fire Services Director Stacy Drakeford offered advice for potential renters.

“If it’s a true rental property, you’re dealing with people in person and not just emailing each other over the internet,” Drakeford said. “If it lists a real estate company, try to find out information about that company other than what they give on Craigslist. Sometimes we have to do a little more work than we would normally do to make sure it is a legitimate deal. ”

Craiglist, likewise, advises renters and buyers to deal locally and to not buy or rent sight unseen. Although the rental posting has been flagged as a scam, the listing was still on Craigslist as of Thursday. Attempts to reach the scammer via email were unsuccessful.