5 On Your Side

House 'renters,' owner victims of Craigslist scam

Posted February 26, 2009 4:53 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:13 p.m. EDT

— 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.

“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.