5 On Your Side

House 'renters,' owner victims of Craigslist scam

Posted February 26, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— Scams involving lotteries, cashier's checks and classified ads are pretty common these days. Many originate in foreign countries.

You can become a victim of a scam without even being approached to fall for it.

Take the Internet, a great place to advertise. It provides access to potentially millions of customers. But if it is easy for us, it is also easy for scammers.

Scammers place houses for rent on Craigslist. Scammers place houses for rent on Craigslist.

“I woke up with my phone ringing off the hook,” Jenny Hock said.

Hock had placed her 1,900-square-foot home on Craigslist for sale in November, but the callers thought it was for rent. After trying to explain that to several confused callers, Hock got a call from someone who clued her in on what was going on.

“She said, 'This is probably gonna be the weirdest phone call you've ever gotten, but I think someone is trying to rent your property fraudulently on Craigslist,'” Hock said.

It turned out someone overseas had copied her Craigslist ad and posted it as a rental. The person even invented an e-mail address with Hock's name in it, but inquiries went to the scammer.

The ad read: “I'm not giving my house out for rent just because of money, but because of my transfer to West Africa. I left the United State with hope that I would be coming back in a month's time, but right now, the company has asked me to stay for three years."

The scammer asked for a $500 cash deposit to be wired. He also stated that the keys to the house were in Africa. So potential renters couldn't go inside, but they could ride by and look at the exterior.

A lot of people did just that, Hock said, who lives in Raleigh.

“I was floored and, you know, people were showing up at my house. We were sitting on the couch watching TV and somebody tried to open my front door,” Hock said.

She got Craigslist to take the ad down. However, she said she still can't believe she was victimized by just placing an ad online.

It is “scary to know someone's impersonating you and that they're sending people to your house and (those people are) walking around the yard and banging on the front door. It's alarming,” Hock said.

Overseas scammers are virtually impossible to catch, so any deposits they can get people to send are most often gone for good.

Such scams happen with all types of classified ads. So when you buy or sell anything online, be cautious, especially if you are asked to cash a check and wire money.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • Z Man Mar 4, 2009

    I responded to an ad on craigslist and the seller gave me his home address! Not a good practice! If you're selling, always meet somewhere other than your home (mall, gas station, etc.) where there are others around. There are a lot of crazies out there and the fewer strangers know you and where you live, the better.

  • shakenbake68 Mar 3, 2009

    caniac2, the reason is because that occurrence you described is too common. In many cases, a legit contractor will agree to let you to pay as they go, 25% at at time. Of course, it depends on the work you are having done also.

  • aetiii Mar 2, 2009

    Does anyone know how to set up a bank account overseas?

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Feb 27, 2009

    WTVD Viewer, calling people "fools"...you're not always a nice fellah, are ya? Yeah, mean either. ;-) So what about realtor.com, that has thousands of MLS realestate listings, all with specific addresses & detailed info? Couple that with online tax records where you get lots more detailed info...Zowee!...scammer paradise.

  • caniac2 Feb 27, 2009

    Sending anything anything to Attorney General Cooper does nothing!! Had a contractor sign a contract to do work. The contractor started work then walked with the money. Contacted the Attorney General and they said sorry to hear that and said they were NOT going to do anything about it. Totally useless. To boot we discovered that this contractor did the same thing to some other families totalling over $120, 000 dollars fraudulant taken and the Attorney General still would do nothing. Small potatos I guess.

  • bjeanr3 Feb 27, 2009

    Got email to rent my place at the beach which is listed on craigslist. After sending address to which deposit ($65) should be sent, I got another email from said renter saying error was made in amt sent. Check I would receive was for too much & when I got it, I was to deposit it and refund the difference by MO to their "travel agent" in CA. Rent was for $525 (deposit was $65) and ck I rec'd by UPS overnight delivery was for $6,000 - nice little profit they would have made had I cashed the ck which, of course, was a fake. I knew it was a scam after the 2nd email, but ck looked very real & some unsuspecting/unsavory craigslister might have fallen for it. Sending all to attorney general Cooper.

  • 8675309-9 Feb 27, 2009

    You don’t put exact locations in Craigslist ads for this reason. People who do get what’s coming to them. The anonymous nature of the Craigslist email system makes it easy to filter out the weirdoes and only give location to those who can carry on a conversation via email like a human and not like a robot.

    This goes for home sales/rentals, tickets, items on your curb etc. Would you post your home address, phone # etc on a prison/jail wall? Then why would you post it on the internet for all to see? You don’t know who is using your info for their own personal gain.

    Don’t be a fool.

  • durham_nc Feb 27, 2009

    When you realize an ad on Craigslist is a scam, make sure you hit the "flag" it button. After a few people do this the ad gets deleted. I know it is not fool proof, but it all helps.

  • tjdebord Feb 27, 2009

    It continues to amaze me that people wire money to a person they don't know, have never met, and are thousands of miles away. It really boggles the mind just how gullible people can be.

  • htomc42 Feb 27, 2009

    There are people who have made a sport of stringing-along these scammers. I have several of these phony checks that I got from Africa; they are the "trophies". Make them spend money to send these packages to you, however do use some neutral non-home address to send them.