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CraigsList scam gets personal! Real estate market is targeted!

It began just a few months ago when we put our house on the rental market.  We hired a reputable realtor and avid blogger Janie Coffey of PapillonRealEstate.com & TheCoralGablesStory.com.  Everything launched great.  Our home was entered in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) that allows realtors to learn of our property. MLS also provides the information to sites such as Realtor.com and the like.

A few weeks after our initial posting a gentleman knocked on my door, inquiring about my house.  I kindly asked him to call the realtor name on the sign on my front lawn.  He looked puzzled.  He said he had learned about my property on CraigsList and understood it to be vacant, with an $800/month asking price.  I was now the puzzled one.  I immediately thought my realtor had entered the details of our listing incorrectly.  I explained to the man that the price was more than double that and I was sorry for his inconvenience.

A quick call to my realtor added more confusion. She explained that she had not added my listing to CraigsList and verified that what was listed through the MLS was indeed our agreed upon price and description.  This is when I first learned of the CraigsList real estate scam.  Janie explained that people from West Africa have been copying actual real estate listings and entering them into CraigsList, solely altering the price and the contact name/email. The intention was to get prospective tenants to wire money for the property without ever handing over the keys.  I couldn’t believe it. I felt a bit violated.

A few more times we had knocks on the door, but I had not put much more thought into it.  Then, this weekend when I returned home after a day out with my family I heard two voicemails on my landline from a woman desperate to speak to me about a scam from CraigsList.  I just knew that this had to do with the West African scam Janie had explained.  I called her back and left her a message.  Within an hour she and her husband showed up at our door.  This is when everything hit rock bottom, especially for this couple.

They had seen our listing on CraigsList, just like many others.  They emailed the contact listed to inquire about the property.  The contact email the scammer had created used my husband’s name, the real property owner.  He had probably found that out easily on a property search site.  The couple heard back from the “owner,” who provided them with an elaborate story as to why he needed to rent out the property, why the price was so low, and even why he couldn’t show them the inside of the house.  After some negotiations, the couple decided to wire the scammer $200 as a deposit for the house.  Before they knew it they learned they had been scammed.  They came to our house that night to tell us the story.

A few days earlier I too had emailed the scammer acting as a prospective tenant.  His reply arrived just the other day.  It bothered me so much to see this man essentially impersonate my husband with his email address and as the owner of the home. 

That is when I knew I needed share this story with others.  I needed to be sure that others learned how to keep this from happening to them.  I was able to contact the local CBS station, CBS 4 Miami, who were instantly interested in reporting the story.

See the CBS 4 Miami report:

http://miami.cbslocal.com/2011/01/10/south-florida-family-tricked-by-latest-craigslist-scam/

There are many lessons to be learned in this story.  It’s hard to even to figure out where to begin.  For many reasons the couple could have assumed that the landlord was legit.  His email address was of the same name as the real home owner; he had pictures, a detailed description and even answered the phone when they called.  However, the clues that need to be picked up on include:

  • Overly detailed description of why he is out of town
  • The vast number of grammatical mistakes in his email
  • The lack reliable phone communication
  • The bizarre reasons for not being able to show the inside of the house
  • A current resident at the home

The most important ally a tenant has is a realtor.  A realtor is typically free for a tenant and could be, especially in this case, very valuable in handling the details of the negotiation.  A realtor has often been there and done that and may have picked up on this scam immediately when you first show interest in seeing the house.  My realtor, Janie Coffey, reported on this scam last August on her blog:  http://www.thecoralgablesstory.com/2010/08/13/beware-of-the-craigslist-rent-scammers/

These scams are not only targeted to South Florida or to real estate.  Please be vigilant, be a Smart Mama, and assume if an opportunity seems too good to be true, it typically is.

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6 comments

  1. Willa 12 January, 2011 at 17:18 Reply

    wow! That is indeed scary!!! With so many people trying to buy a house hoping to get a good deal because of the economic situation just to foun out they been scammed is really hurtful.This will also affect those legit landlord/seller because it might scared the legit tenant/buyer.

  2. Rosemary 12 January, 2011 at 17:53 Reply

    So sorry to hear about this Caroline. Silver lining for you and for all of us is that we have to be extremely smart.

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