12 On Your Side: FBI warns of rental scam on Craigslist

By: Elizabeth Owens Email
By: Elizabeth Owens Email

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. -- Tristan Baker dreams of moving out of her tiny apartment. She started looking at rental homes a few months ago.

"Me and mom were looking for a three bedroom, two bath," she said.

It didn't take Baker long to find a beautiful three-bedroom house under $600 on Craigslist. She drove by the home before sending a money order to the person listed in the ad.

"I looked and there is this real estate sign out front, and I said that's not the same person that's on Craigslist," Baker said.

A real estate agent confirmed her fear. The ad she saw on Craigslist was a scam.

"It's getting to the point now that people are taking pictures off of the real estate's website and posting it on Craigslist and they are pretending it's their houses now," she said.

Baker started her search again. And again, she found what appeared to be her dream home.

"They sent me the application and it was like a weird application and it said that they were in Germany," she said.

Baker isn't the first person to almost fall for a rental scam on Craigslist. The FBI is now warning residents in South Carolina about scam artists looking to steal your money and your personal information through fake rental ads.

If you are victim of a real estate scam, the FBI wants you to file a complaint. You can file a complaint online here.

Here are a few ways to protect yourself when searching for housing online:

  • 1. Never wire money, especially to overseas.
  • 2. Be leery of anyone claiming they can't meet you in person.
  • 3. Drive by the rental home to see if there is a real estate sign outside. If so, call the company to verify the Craigslist ad.

Here's the news release from the FBI:
"David A. Thomas, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in South Carolina, advises homeowners and/or prospective renters in South Carolina to be cautious of a new Internet scam being perpetrated by advertisers on a popular online marketing site, Craigslist. This type of scam has significantly increased in recent years, and the FBI would like to warn prospective renters to remain vigilant to avoid becoming a potential victim.

This scam follows the familiar pattern of an online advertisement that seems 'too good to be true.' Potential victims are contacted by an individual in a foreign country by either email or phone and subsequently wire money to an unknown third person in an overseas location. Perpetrators implement the scam by researching homes listed for sale on public search sites, such as www.trulia.com. They copy the pictures and descriptions verbatim and then post the information onto Craigslist under available housing rentals without the consent or knowledge of Craigslist or the "true" owner.

To avoid these types of scams, renters should never wire funds to an unknown person and should only conduct business with individuals they can meet in person. In addition, renters should request to see the property in person and preferably be shown the interior of a property prior to signing a contract and transmitting any payments.

The FBI is requesting individuals who have similar complaints to file an Internet crime complaint on www.ic3.gov with the FBI to ensure the extent of this scheme can be accurately evaluated."

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